'Many even get discouraged to file cases in such situations as it takes a long time to get a verdict'
Shipra Debnath, a student of Stamford University Bangladesh and also a member of the team led by slain Major (rtd) Sinha Md Rashed Khan, recently fell victim to serious cyberbullying.
Shipra and her family claimed that some images of Shipra were posted on Facebook along with provocative comments, where she was portrayed with objectionable remarks by a section of netizens.
Even some senior police officials were reportedly involved in the act of harassing and bullying Shipra – one of the prime witnesses in the case related to the murder of the former army man – on different social media platforms.
This is the latest incident, and certainly not the last, of social media and other online platforms being misused by a section of the population with vested interests to defame, demoralize, harass, bully, threaten – among other offences – people.
This has a lot to do with the lack of awareness and punishment for cyberbullying despite the significant expansion of the country’s digital footprints and technological advancements achieved in the past few years.
Expressing these views, rights activists believe that this issue has seen unprecedented growth due to the lack of awareness amongst the general public and the absence of proper action from state organs over such issues.
Shipra tried to file a case against those responsible, including two senior police officers, under the Digital Security Act (DSA), but the Cox’s Bazar Sadar police station refused to register her case.
Cyberbullying and online character assassinations have increased alarmingly in recent years. Many of the victims as well as the accused in sensational incidents are falling prey to online hostility.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, human rights activist Advocate Alena Khan said that negligence on the part of the law enforcement agencies can be observed over the incidents of online harassment and cyberbullying.
“Many even get discouraged to file cases in such situations as it takes a long time to get a verdict. If the whole process of getting justice had been more efficient, such incidents would have been fewer in number.
“Besides, good and bad things coexist on social media platforms and thus general people need to raise awareness regarding the use and application of social media,” she added.
Rights activist Nur Khan Liton said: “When a victim asks for police help, in many cases they are harassed instead of getting cooperation.”
Again, many of the victims of cyberbullying, especially women, feel shy and fear that they will get more exposure if they file a complaint, he added
However, refuting the allegations, Dhaka Metropolitan Police cybercrime unit deputy commissioner AFM AL Kibria, said that police were doing their duty within the purview of the law.
“They don’t act on political prejudice,” he added.
He said: “Considering the number of social media users in Bangladesh, it is very challenging to monitor and patrol each one of them individually.
“In incidents of cyberbullying, online harassment and defamation, the law tells one to seek remedy from the law enforcers. So, the victim can file a general diary (GD) with the police station concerned or with the court.”
When contacted, officials monitoring cyber crimes said that in most cyberbullying incidents, the victim is a female, and a group of people make sexist, offensive and obscene posts and remarks citing her gender, gesture, attire, outlook and profession.
On April 10, last year, 18-year-old Nusrat Jahan Rafi, an alim examinee in Feni, was set on fire in broad daylight on the roof of a madrasa by people loyal to principal Sirajuddaula, when she refused to withdraw a sexual harassment case her family had filed against Sirajuddaula.
Before she was brutally murdered, she had met with then Sonagazi police station OC Moazzem Hossain in March to file a sexual harassment complaint against the madrasa principal but the police official, instead of helping her, recorded her statement and circulated it online.
In her efforts to seek justice, Nusrat became a victim of cyberbullying from a law enforcement official.
The Sonagazi police station OC, however, was arrested later and was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment under the DSA.
If we take a look into the case of Ayesha Siddika Minni, whose husband Rifat Sharif, 25, was hacked to death in broad daylight in Barguna town on June 26, 2019, we will find the same pattern of cyberbullying and virtual harassment.
A group of people, right after police claimed that Minni was involved in the murder and for that reason was arrested, stormed social media platforms and took part in her character assassination.
She was mercilessly trolled, falling victim to cyberbullying for her alleged affair with one of Rifat’s friends and the main accused in the murder case, Nayan, who was killed in a reported gunfight.
Even obscene fake videos of her with Nayan were circulated online.
Police, however, were reluctant to trace the Facebook accounts which were involved in defaming, harassing and bullying Minni online.
In another recent incident, JKG Health Care Chairman Dr Sabrina Arif Chowdhury was arrested on charges of providing fake Covid-19 test reports.
Soon after her arrest on July 12, a group of people started posting sexist posts against Dr Sabrina on Facebook, mentioning her attire, physical appearance and alleged affairs. She also fell prey to cyberbullying.
Sohagi Jahan Tonu, a second-year student of Comilla Victoria Government College and also a theatre artiste, was raped and killed in Mainamati Cantonment in March 2016.
The murder sparked outrage across the country but that was not enough to restrain a group of people from publishing sexual and hate-filled social media posts which finally led to her character assassination.
Some even tried to draw a connection with her getting raped and murdered with her being involved with theatre activities.
Contacted, the CID's Cyber Police Special Superintendent Rezaul Masud said that the law enforcers mainly monitored and took action on anti-state and anti-government issues, or against those trying to create unrest in society, as well as fake news portals and posts that might fuel a religious conflict.
He said that the police usually received around 100 complaints related to cybercrime everyday.
“All the charges are not cognizable, so police cannot take action on their own without charges in every case, he added.
He said: “If anyone files a complaint about cyberbullying, CID investigates the incident and takes necessary action,” Rezaul added.
Supreme Court lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua, a rights activist, said that cyberbullying was growing silently and women were the main targets.
“This requires a policy on how to control or drive ordinary citizens into a positive direction. Our existing laws are more focused on how to suppress and punish.
“It is important to build a culture of using the law equally for all without using it selectively,” he added.
He said: “It is possible to take online security measures in many ways, not just by jail or fine. Various types of restrictions can also be imposed there. There will then be no need for one to go to the court or to the police in many cases.
It is necessary to develop a safe and secure online environment for all of us,” he added.