Although a cybercrime case is supposed to be disposed of in 270 days, the only development in the case since it was filed on October 10, 2018 is the submission of the chargesheet
Barely three days after the Digital Security Act came into effect, a case was filed with Paltan police station in Dhaka under the law on October 10, 2018, accusing five youths of selling fake question papers of medical college admission tests through using digital platforms.
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of police filed the case after arresting Kawser Gazi, Shohel Miah, Tarikul Islam Shovon, Rubaiyat Tanvir Aditto and Masudur Rahman Emon from the capital’s Badda and Jatrabari areas.
Later during investigation, Investigating Officer Sub-Inspector Shibbir Ahmed included another youth, Masudur Rahman Imon, in the case.
Since then, two years and four months have passed, and the youths – aged between 19 and 21 years when arrested – are still waiting for the trial to begin.
Although a cybercrime case is supposed to be disposed of in 270 working days, it now seems obvious that the accused will have to wait even longer to hear the judgment.
All the six accused, who are out on bail, can be sentenced to five-year imprisonment if their crimes are proven in court.
Chargesheet the only development
The only development made so far in this case is the submission of a chargesheet after the investigation was completed.
CID Sub-Inspector Shibbir Rahman took 17 months to complete his investigation, although the law stipulates that the investigation of a case be completed within 75 working days, including an extra 15 days.
He submitted the chargesheet to Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court on February 25 last year, accusing all six individuals. The case was transferred to the Cyber Tribunal on September 3 last year, but the hearing on charge framing has yet to take place.
Sources in the Cyber Tribunal said the hearing was scheduled to start on March 16. However, they have no idea how much time it might take to complete charge framing, record the statements of witnesses, and then pronounce the verdict in the first case under the much-talked-about law.
34 witnesses in one case
One of the biggest weaknesses of this case is that it has 34 witnesses. This large number of witnesses in a case, in which six people have been accused, will only delay the judgment.
Investigating Officer Shibbir Ahmed said he had included all the related people as witnesses to make sure the charges brought against the accused were proven.
“No one, except police personnel, wanted to be a witness. I had to convince them,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
Regarding the delay in the submission of the chargesheet, he said taking statements from all the witnesses required a lot of time. Getting forensic reports also took months, he added.
He had no idea about the hearing on charge framing scheduled for March 16.
Experts fear that months, if not years, will be taken to dispose of this case.
What do experts say?
Proving the charges in this case beyond doubt is difficult based on the existing forensic lab-generated reports, said cybersecurity and digital forensic expert Tanvir Hassan Zoha, who is an assistant professor at the Bangladesh University of Business and Technology.
“We have to run the forensic (investigation) using social media lab to make sure that the accused persons committed crimes, but such a lab is still absent in our country,” he added.
Going through the case documents, chargesheet and forensic reports, Tanvir said: “There are seven layers of every communication that takes place on digital platforms. So, footprints in all the layers should be found during forensic investigation.”
About the case having 34 witnesses, Tanvir said proof of digital footprints of an accused was much more acceptable than many witnesses to prove a cybercrime.
Eminent jurist and Supreme Court lawyer Dr Shahdeen Malik said the law had been enacted to harass and intimidate.
“If the accused actually committed a crime, police should have been able to complete the investigation and begin the process of the trial. Police failure to initiate (the) trial in so many months is the most clear indication that the sole purpose of the law is to curtail freedom of speech and limit criticism of the government,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
The fact is, he continued, that there is only one cybercrime court which also indicates the government’s level of interest in actual legal procedure.
The Digital Security Act, dubbed as a draconian law by many, has been in discussions at home and abroad since its promulgation because of its misuse.
The recent death of the writer Mushtaq Ahmed in a high-security prison has brought the law into the limelight once again.
Various local and international organizations are now demanding that the law be scrapped immediately.
Over 2,000 cases have so far been filed across the country since the law came into effect.