When opinions become culpable
It is disquieting to learn of Jhumon Das' travails from a report by this daily that has, once again, exposed the urgent need for the government to revisit the most draconian piece of legislation in the country's parliamentary history—the Digital Security Act (DSA), 2018. It also highlights the need to ensure that laws are applied equitably, and no one is treated above or below it.
Jhumon has been in jail for the last six months. Police showed him arrested and produced him before a Sunamganj court on March 17, after which he was sent to jail. He has been there since then, without bail. The reason for his arrest is a Facebook status he posted, where he questioned the activities of a Hefazat leader. It was merely an opinion which any free person in a free society should be entitled to. But not in case of Jhumon, who was handed over to the police, reportedly to assuage a violent mob that set upon the houses of the Hindu minorities at Noagaon village in Sunamganj's Shalla upazila. The so-called Hefazat supporters vandalised and looted about 90 Hindu houses following Jhumon's comments on Facebook. While Jhumon has been rotting in jail, and his family suffering unimaginable hardship, the perpetrators of the vandalism are roaming with impunity. Why is it so?
Interestingly, it was not under the DSA that Jhumon was arrested initially, but under another equally punitive law: Section 54 of the Penal Code. The undesirable and deplorable aspects of the DSA have been highlighted in all sections of the media, and we deem it unnecessary to repeat those. Suffice it to say that human rights activists and watchdogs, both at home and abroad, have repeatedly called for its revocation as several of its provisions strike at the fundamental rights enshrined in the country's constitution, as well as the universal principles of freedom of expression. Since the law came into effect, the randomness of its application has been painfully experienced by various sections of society—the media in particular, but also individuals. Such unfair and indiscriminate application has vindicated our position that this law is not for the benefit of the citizens, but rather to serve the interests of those in power.
This becomes further evident when we consider that no palpable steps have been taken as yet to fulfil the assurances the law minister gave in March this year. He promised to undertake measures to ensure that no one would be arrested or sued under the Digital Security Act before the investigation or formation of a monitoring team, and prevent abuse or misuse of the law and its rules regarding when to provide bail and when not to. Regrettably, nothing noticeable has been done in that respect over the last six months.