On January 3, 2023, a former leader of a Hindu group was sentenced to jail for seven years over an alleged ‘blasphemous’ Facebook post that surfaced in 2017.
Rakesh Roy, a Bangladeshi Hindu and organising secretary of Bangladesh Jatiya Hindu Mohajote (BJHM), was sentenced to jail for a stringent seven-year prison term by Sylhet Cyber Tribunal judge Abu Kashem. A fine of one lakh Taka has also been imposed on him.
An Islamic extremist Ahmed Fujayel lodged a case against Rakesh Roy on June 5, 2017, that led to the arrest of Roy on June 7 under section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT), 2006, now known as the ‘Digital Security Act’, at Zakiganj Police Station.
Rakesh Roy said a man named Abdul Aziz was working to convert the Hindus of Zakiganj. He protested against the move which led to a vested group creating a fake ID under his name on Facebook making the derogatory comments
Fujayel Ahmed, in his complaint, made allegations that Rakesh Roy, a Bangladeshi Hindu, had insulted Prophet Muhammad in a Facebook post.
Back in 2017, during a press conference, Sylhet’s Additional Superintendent of Police, Suggayan Chakma, stated that Roy was arrested from Lalakhal in Jaintiapur upazila.
SP Chakma had said that a screenshot of Rakesh Roy’s ‘objectionable’ Facebook post ‘insulting’ Muhammad had been shared widely online. This led to demonstrations in Zakiganj urging Roy’s arrest.
Rakesh Roy denied the allegations and added that an objectionable post was posted from the fake account created in his name.
Roy said that Abdul Aziz was trying to convert Zaikganj Hindus. He objected to his action, which provoked a miscreant group to create a false Facebook account in his name and post offensive posts to frame him in a false case of blasphemy.
Unhappy with the judgement, Rakesh Roy’s counsel Ishtiaq Ahmed Chaudhary said he would appeal to a higher court.
It is also important to note that in 2017, a Bangladeshi American named Sitangshu Guha initiated a petition (now closed) to Bangladesh’s PM Sheikh Hasina seeking the release of Rakesh Roy.
In a petition initiated by Guha, he claimed that Roy, who belonged to a Krishok League and Jatiyo Hindu Oikko Mahajot, was actively working to protect Hindu rights against the “vehement provocation” by an extremist named Abdul Aziz. He added that after Abdul Aziz’s arrest, a conspiracy was formed to frame Roy in a false blasphemy case.
The petition also emphasised the misuse of section 57 of the ICT Act to oppress minority communities. The petition also claimed that Islamists frequently spread rumours to incite hatred towards Hindus and other minority communities before locking them up in violation of section 57 of the ICT Act. The ultimate agenda of the ICT Act’s misuse is to oust Hindus from their ancestral homes.
Section 57 of the ICT Act has been widely criticised and even called draconian. According to Section 57 of the ICT Act, anybody who publishes false, obscene, or defamatory, tends to deprave and corrupt its audience, causes or may cause “deterioration in law and order,” harm the reputation of the state or a person, or “causes or may cause hurt to religious belief” through content in electronic form was subjected to punishment.
The Act was widely used against the people criticising the Government and politicians as well as used against minority communities. Violating Section 57 was one of the five controversial portions of the ICT Act that the Government chose to withdraw in 2018. This was replaced by Digital Security Act (DSA) which came into force in October 2018. But, DSA included these sections with even heavier sanctions.