On the occasion of Free Journalism Day on 3 May, the situation of freedom of expression and human rights in Bangladesh was discussed at the initiative of an organization called ‘Nagarik’. In such seminars, experts usually come as invited guests along with the participants of the relevant topics and express their views. Many times expert speakers leave with speeches. They don’t listen to others.
But on that day, when I heard the tragic experiences of some victims of human rights violations in the citizens’ seminar, my heart was filled with sadness. The heart is bleeding. Among them were folk artist Rita Dewan, Chittagong journalist Golam Sarwar, Dhaka photojournalist Shafiqul Islam Kajal and Chittagong University teacher Maidul Islam. Among the organizers and participants were international relations expert and human rights activist CR Abrar, lawyers Jyotirmoy Barua and Rezaur Rahman, writer Firoz Ahmed and others. In this column, I am not repeating their statements but focusing on the experiences of the victims. Rita Dewan is a Baul artist. He wandered from village to village singing. This song is his life, his livelihood. His family lived on what he got by singing ballads in different places. On February 2 last year, a lawyer filed a case under Section 26 (1) of the Digital Security Act at the Bangladesh Cyber Tribunal, alleging that he had hurt religious feelings. The court did not take cognizance of the case directly and directed the PBI to investigate. Based on their investigation, the court issued an arrest warrant against Rita Dewan on December 2. When he surrendered to the court, Bangladesh Cyber Tribunal judge Assam Jaglul Hossain granted him bail. But even after being released on bail, Rita is not able to lead a normal life. His singing stopped. No one calls him for a ballad out of fear.
Speaking on the occasion, Rita Dewan’s lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua said that she is an established Baul artist. A case was filed against him under section 27 of the ICT Act for presenting a fragmentary statement of one of his programs. A seven-minute video is presented. The main point of Article 26 is that he has to publish or promote the video through website or electronically. He did nothing like that. Apart from that there was a four-and-a-half hour singing program; He is falsely accused of distorting the fragmentary part of the ballad about the relationship between man and the Creator. We have presented these statements, the court was satisfied and granted him bail.
Rita Dewan went to the seminar to talk about her grief and cried. “I have been singing since I was a child,” he said. I didn’t learn anything except music. I speak of Allah and His Messenger through songs. I am talking about religion. ‘A class of people have filed a case against him for misinterpreting the song and also stopped singing. In which society do we live? In this country, folk and Baul artists have given joy to the people by singing for hundreds of years. As given by Lalon Sai. As given by Hasan Raja. As given by Shah Abdul Karim and many other Baul artists. One may or may not agree with the theology that these artists have propagated through songs, the life-philosophy they have explained. But why stop the song? Why would there be a terrorist attack on the artist? Last year, miscreants set fire to the Baulgan auditorium of the house of Baul Ganesh Tagore, a disciple of Shah Abdul Karim. The musical instruments of his and his disciples in that house, along with the lyric books and the valuable instruments of Baulgan collected for about 40 years were also burnt. Later, however, he was given assistance by the district administration to buy a house and musical instruments.
But legal action is not being taken against many Baul artists like Rita Dewan who have made their lives miserable, who have beaten Baul artists, cut their beards, demolished their dormitories. There is no punishment. The attackers got exposed. Not only Baul artists, but also Jatrapala entrepreneurs and artists have been attacked. On dissenting writers.
The theme of the seminar was Freedom of Expression and Human Rights. There is no denying that all classes of people face difficult times. Many have lost their jobs. But the lives of those who have fallen victim to digital security laws, whose power has been pushed into constant threats and harassment, have become even more miserable. They are oppressed by the society, neglected by the family.
Among the victims at the seminar was photojournalist Shafiqul Islam Kajal, against whom several leaders, including ruling party MPs, had filed lawsuits under the Digital Security Act. He was abducted on his way to his office in Hatirpule. Five months later he discovered himself at Benapole in Jessore. Where has Kajal been these five months, there is no answer to this question. Chittagong-based journalist Golam Sarwar, who made an online report on the corruption of a local influential person. Then who or what kidnapped him. Beat him. Do not be a journalist, after giving this bond, the kidnappers released him. Again, a case was filed against him under the Digital Security Act.
Maidul Islam, a teacher at Chittagong University, posted a status on Facebook about the poor condition of the university’s dormitory. He also had to go to jail under the same law. About whom he wrote on Facebook, he did not sue. No one from the government has filed a case. A BCL leader has filed a case. His case is pending. He received a scholarship to a university abroad for higher studies. But the authorities of Chittagong University said goodbye to him Shayatra has been stopped on the pretext of the case. This is the greatness of digital security laws and powers.
Many leaders and activists of Hefazat-e-Islam have been arrested after the recent Brahmanbaria and Hathazari incidents. But since 2013, Hifazat’s followers have not stopped making provocative statements against so-called bloggers, writers and artists. Their threat can be seen as soon as social media is opened, ‘Kill it. Arrest him. ”
Starting from the top leadership of the government, the law enforcement officials are giving good advice on what independent writers and artists should write and sing without taking action against these propagandists. It is the people who want to suppress dissent.
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