Bangladeshi Teen Detained for 13 Months over Facebook Post is ‘Broken’

Sharif Khiam
2021.12.06
Dhaka
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Bangladeshi Teen Detained for 13 Months over Facebook Post is ‘Broken’ Activists march in Dhaka to demand Bangladesh abolish Digital Security Act, March 3, 2021.
BenarNews

A heartbroken Bir Narayan Das suffered three heart attacks and died after the October 2020 arrest of his beloved teenage granddaughter Dipti Rani Das, then 17, who was thrown in jail for allegedly desecrating the Quran in a Facebook post, his family said.

Dipti’s parents say they are anguished at their daughter’s incarceration and have lost their life savings trying to get her out of detention for the alleged violation of a notoriously stringent law focusing on electronic media content.

Dipti’s father, Dilip Kumar Das, said his daughter did not post anything about the Quran and that her Facebook account was hacked.

And what of the now 18-year-old Dipti?  Her spirt and health have been broken, and she has been traumatized, her parents say, after the teenager was refused bail four times, and upon being granted it the fifth time, saw it denied by another court that did not want her released because the case was “sensitive.”

Her mother, Amina Das, spoke about the family’s plight.

“Dipti turned 18 this year while detained in the juvenile correction center in Rajshahi. We are worried and devastated to think about her education and future,” Amina Das told BenarNews.

“How can I explain the agony because we can do nothing to get our daughter free? Her grandfather already died with this pain.”          

Dilip Das said his daughter had only just been admitted to the eleventh grade when she was detained.

“Our child’s health is now broken. She is in trauma,” the couple said.

“The incident happened within two months of her admission to the secondary education class in Parbatipur Government College. She still desires to continue her studies,” Dilip Das told BenarNews.

Amnesty International has joined the campaign to free Dipti.

"You cannot be not concerned by such forms of punishment that seize critical, formative years of a child's life simply for a Facebook post,” Amnesty’s South Asia Campaigner Saad Hammadi said.

“The state is the guardian of its people. Instead of providing protection, we have a teenage girl languishing at a correction facility for more than a year. Dipti Rani Das should be in school, not in detention.”

‘We treat her as a victim’

The Digital Security Act, passed in 2018 punishes those who produce or distribute content that “hurts religious sentiments or religious values” or “destroys communal harmony, or creates unrest or disorder” with up to 10 years in prison.

It empowers police to make arrests on suspicion and without a warrant. Fourteen of its 20 provisions do not allow for bail, so when those accused are brought before a magistrate, they almost automatically are sent to jail.

Dipti’s and others’ cases show “how repressive laws like the Digital Security Act can effectively traumatize an individual,” Hammadi said.

By some accounts, Dipti has not had it as bad as some others who have been refused bail seven and eight times or more.

In May, Mushtaq Ahmed, 53, a businessman and writer arrested under the act, died in custody after falling ill at a high security prison. He had been refused bail six times following his arrest – the last time two days before his death.

An official at the Women and Children Juvenile Safe Home in Rajshahi where Dipti is being held – 127 miles from her home in Dinajpur – said the teen is being treated well.

“She is well – we treat her as a victim, not as a criminal here. But she is dejected over her education and uncertainty, as she did not get bail for such a long time,” Laizu Razzak, Safe Home deputy supervisor, told BenarNews.

‘In no way able to afford the case’

Police arrested Dipti in October 2020 in northern Dinajpur, about 210 miles north of Dhaka, after a Digital Security Act case filed over a Facebook post that contained a photograph of a female who was shown with a Quran placed between her thighs.

“Her Facebook profile ‘Adhara Dipti’ was hacked,” Dilip Das said, adding that he turned to the High Court to help his daughter.

“We moved the High Court as her bail petition was rejected in the lower courts four times,” Dilip Das said.

“The High Court [then] granted six months bail, but the Appellate Division later stayed the bail order, accepting an appeal petition filed by the deputy commissioner (DC) of Dinajpur.”

Dilip Das said he and his wife have gone broke fighting for Dipti’s release.

“My small business of selling hardware items has almost stopped since the Oct. 28 incident and now we are in no way able to afford the case,” he said.

Meanwhile, two men who were part of a huge group of people angry about the Facebook post that attacked a local police station, were granted bail, even as Dipti was stuck in detention.

Another mob angered by the Facebook post attacked a local police station, injuring at least seven officers.

“Two of the attackers were arrested and later freed on bail, but my daughter has been languishing in prison for 13 months,” Dilip Das said.

Sujoy Kumar Roy, an acting officer at the Dinajpur Model Police Station, said he could not comment on progress in Dipti’s the case, and the station’s superintendent did not respond to BenarNews’ request for comment.

In addition, the Dinajpur deputy commissioner (DC), Khaled Mohammad Zaki, said he could not comment on an appeal petition.

“These things are handled by the RM [Revenue Munsikhana] section of my office. I cannot say specifically about it without inquiring into the incident,” he told BenarNews.

“The district administration deals with about 150 or 200 cases regularly. So, it is not possible for the deputy commissioner to remain updated about all the cases,” said Khaled.

Support for family

Amnesty International (AI) called on government authorities to ensure Dipti and her family, and other members of minority groups in Bangladesh, are protected from communal or politically motivated attacks.

“Dipti should be released immediately,” Amnesty said in an “Urgent Action” addressed to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Nov. 24.

Bangladesh human rights organization Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK) is giving legal support to Dipti.

“The State’s attorneys objected to the bail on an appeal forwarded by the DC, terming the case as ‘sensitive.’ They argued that the law-and-order situation can deteriorate if Dipti is freed on bail,” ASK director Nina Goswami told BenarNews.

“We will appeal for her bail again in January. It is painful to see the plight of the minor girl and her family. The wailing parents phone us repeatedly seeking assistance.”

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