CPJ demands that the draconian Digital Security Act be revoked as it enables legal abuses
A New York-based rights group promoting press freedom, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), has asked Bangladesh authorities to cease its legal harassment of photojournalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol, Swedish-Bangladeshi journalist Tasneem Khalil, and cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore.
Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, said: “The authorities must drop all charges against them, stop harassing journalists in retaliation for their work, and repeal the draconian Digital Security Act, which enables these legal abuses.”
In a statement issued on Tuesday night, CPJ said they had been persecuted for their political commentary.
The Dhaka Cyber Tribunal on September 7 and 8 accepted the charges against Kajol in two cases filed under the DSA. Police are yet to submit charges in the other case.
Kajol had previously worked as a photojournalist at national dailies including the Daily Samakal and the Daily Bonik Barta. He is the editor of the fortnightly magazine Pakkhakal.
On the other hand, the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal in another case charged Netra News Editor-in-Chief Tasneem, activist Kishore and five others on September 12.
The five other accused in the case are expatriate businessman Zulkarnain Shayer Khan alias Sami, who appeared in an allegedly false and politically motivated documentary of Al Jazeera, "Rastrachinta" Coordinator Didarul Islam Bhuiyan, BLE Securities Managing Director and former director of Dhaka Stock Exchange Minhaj Mannan Emon, Ashik Imran, and Wahidun Nabi Swapan alias Swapan Wahid.
The tribunal also issued an arrest warrant against Tasneem for nonappearance. Kishore and Kajol are currently free on bail after languishing in jail for months.
The case against Tasneem, Kishore
Tasneem told CPJ that the Bangladesh government did not inform him of the warrant, and he heard about it in the news.
“The authorities have blocked domestic connections to Netra News website since December 2019,” according to Tasneem and CPJ’s documentation from the time.
The charges stem from a police report alleging that Kishore and five others ran a Facebook page that criticized the government; that Tasneem made derogatory comments about government officials on his Facebook page; and that Tasneem also “instigated” Kishore to “make anti-state rumours go viral on social media,” according to a CPJ research and a report by Netra News.
In March, Kishore told CPJ that, during his previous detention as part of this case, unidentified men beat, abused, and tortured him while asking about his cartoons. CPJ has called on the Bangladesh government to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations of torture.
On May 5 last year, members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested the cartoonist and writer Mushtaq Ahmed from their homes in Dhaka’s Kakrail and Lalmatia areas. Mushtaq died in jail on February 25 this year, after being denied bail for nine months. Kishore walked out of jail on bail on March 4.
During March and April in 2020, Kishore had drawn several cartoons criticizing and satirizing the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, posting it on Facebook with the title “Life in the Time of Corona”. He also drew a satirical cartoon mocking the chairman of a private bank, a powerful businessman who reportedly has close ties to the country’s government.
Kishore and Tasneem were charged under several sections of the DSA, each of which can carry a prison sentence between three and seven years, and fines.
CPJ contacted RAB, DB and DMP officials for comments, but did not receive any reply.
The cases against Kajol
On March 9 last year, Awami League lawmaker from Magura-1 constituency Saifuzzaman Shikhor filed a case against Kajol and 31 others, including Daily Manab Zamin Editor Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, with Sher-e-Bangla Nagar police station.
He accused them of publishing a report with false information regarding expelled Jubo Mohila League leader Shamima Noor Papia — who had been arrested back in February on charges of smuggling counterfeit notes and sentenced to jail in October in an arms case — and circulating it on social media.
Two more cases were also filed against him under the DSA with Hazaribagh and Kamrangirchar police stations in Dhaka on March 10 and 11, respectively.
On March 10, Kajol went missing after leaving his office. After a 53-day disappearance, he turned up in police custody on May 3 after the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) arrested him on charges of trespassing at Benapole border in Jessore.
For seven months, he was denied bail several times by the lower court. Finally, the High Court granted him permanent bail in the three cases in November and December. He walked out of jail after 237 days on December 25.
On April 18 this year, DB police submitted the charge sheet against the photojournalist, and dropped the names of 31 others from the charges, as their involvement was not found.
On September 7, the tribunal fixed October 20 for the indictment hearing.
The same tribunal on September 8 accepted the charges pressed against Kajol in the other case filed with Kamrangirchar police. Hering on the charge framing matter will begin on October 20.
DB police submitted the charge sheet on March 14 accusing him of publishing fake news on his Facebook account regarding the arrest and alleged crimes of expelled Jubo Mohila League leader Shamima Nur Papia.
On March 11 last year, Sumaiya Chowdhury Banna, member of Jubo Mohila League's central committee, filed the case against Kajol.
If convicted, each of those charges can carry a prison sentence between three and seven years, and fines.
The law enforcers have yet to submit investigation report in the other case filed with Hazaribagh police.
CPJ also emailed and texted Shikhor at the address and phone number listed on his website, but received error messages in response. CPJ emailed the Prime Minister's Office, but did not immediately receive any reply.