Bangladesh: Satirist Allowed Bail Over Anti-Government Facebook Posts

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
151214-BD-satirist-620 A satirical Facebook page operated by Bangladeshi citizen Refayet Ahmad draws about 700,000 followers.

A Dhaka court on Monday granted bail to Bangladeshi satirist Refayet Ahmad, who was charged with spreading false and obscene comments against the government and prominent persons through his Facebook page which boasts more than 700,000 followers.

The ruling occurred the same day that the government lifted a ban on all social media sites, which it had imposed nearly four weeks ago on national security grounds.

“His arrest is a bad signal for those believe in the freedom of expression,” Imran H. Sarker, spokesman for Gono Jagoron Moncho (Mass Awakening Platform), a grassroots movement, told BenarNews on Monday.

Ahmad was arrested at a house in the Dhaka area on Thursday by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) strike force. Police at the Bhatara station in Dhaka charged him under section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act.

According to the section, a person who deliberately publishes or transmits false or obscene content online or electronically that undermine law and order will face criminal charges. Any electronic material that may prejudice the image of the state or a person, or that may hurt religious beliefs is considered an offense under the law.

Online activists have criticized the section for stipulating a minimum seven years and a maximum 14 years in jail as punishment for such violations.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Saiful Islam Helal told BenarNews that Dhaka First Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge Jesmin Ara Begum granted bail to Refayet, even though the state argued against the judge’s ruling.

Poking fun at officials

Despite the ban on social media sites including Facebook, which had lasted since Nov. 18 in most cases, Ahmad was able to take swipes at the government through postings on his satirical Facebook page, which is known as “Moja losss,” by using an alternative server.

Reacting to the ban, he posted “Do you have stomach upset? Mosquito bites? Everything will be okay if you block Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber?”

On Nov. 21, Ahmad posted a caricature of State Minister of Telecommunications Tarana Halim looking through a pair of binoculars. The caption said that people using Facebook with alternative servers were “under strict observation.”

The post criticized some ministers and MPs for using alternative servers themselves to maintain their Facebook pages.

Social media sites unblocked

On Monday, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission finally lifted the ban on all social media sites.

On Nov. 18 it had blocked Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber after the Supreme Court upheld death sentences of two convicted war criminals, Salahuddin Qauder Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid. The commission removed the block on Facebook on Dec. 10, but added three other social media sites to the banned list on Sunday.

“Today we have unblocked Viber, WhatsApp, Skype, Twitter and Imo as the government has instructed so,” commission Chairman Shahjahan Mahmood told BenarNews on Monday.


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