• Thursday, Nov 21, 2019
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Link between social media and communal violence

  • Published at 11:53 pm October 21st, 2019
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Sunday’s tragic incident in Bhola, which left four dead, and many others injured over fabricated hate statements through a hacked Facebook account, is yet another sad episode of the heinous ploy

Framing people, particularly those belonging to minority communities, through made-up social media posts, to incite religious sentiment, has by now become a systematic pattern.

Sunday’s tragic incident in Bhola, which left four dead, and many others injured over fabricated hate statements through a hacked Facebook account, is yet another sad episode of the heinous ploy.    

It almost immediately reminds of the chilling incidents in Cox’s Bazar’s Ramu a few years ago. In 2012, violence was unleashed on Buddhists, using a Facebook post that defamed Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as an excuse. 

Using concocted Facebook postings as excuses, hatred against minority communities was spread in Pabna in 2013, in Brahmanbaria in 2016, and in Rangpur in 2017. An agonizingly slow moving trial process in each of the previous cases has resulted in no example being set for the perpetrators to take lessons from.    

The charge sheet has been submitted by police in most of the cases, but no verdicts have been delivered.

Court sources, and others said verdicts are yet to be delivered, due to the need to record testimonies from a large number of people, and because religion is a sensitive issue.

Let’s start with one of the first incidents, in Cox’s Bazar’s Ramu on September 29 seven years ago.

Hundreds of people went on a rampage through the area, looting, and setting fire to houses and temples of the Buddhist community. At least 12 monasteries, and 30 households in Ramu, as well as seven monasteries, and 11 houses in Ukhiya and Teknaf, were torched during the attacks.

The acts of vandalism began because of a rumour that an image insulting the Prophet (pbuh), and the Quran had been posted on the Facebook account of local Uttam Barua.

Police submitted a charge sheet to the court against 945 people, even though over 15,000 people were accused in 19 cases filed over the attacks in Ramu, Ukhiya, and Teknaf, said Cox's Bazar Sessions Judge Court’s Public Prosecutor (PP) Faridul Alam. 

However, no verdict has been delivered despite passage of seven years. 

The lawyer said, one case was disposed off with the consent of the plaintiffs, while the other 18 are at the testimony recording stages.

A second incident occurred in Rangpur, on November 10, 2017, and no verdict has been delivered in the case over this incident either. One person was killed when police opened fire to ward off an angry mob that set fire to least 30 Hindu houses at Thakurpara village in Rangpur Sadar upazila.

The mob had been angered by rumours that Titu Roy put up a Facebook post defaming Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Two cases were filed with Zila Kotwali police station, and Gongachora police station over the incidents. Police submitted charge sheets against 219, and 225 people in the respective cases.

Additional Police Super Mohammad Abu Maruf Hossain said: “No hearing has been held so far as this is a huge case, with many witnesses.” 

Another incident took place at Bonogram Bazar under Pabna’s Sathia upazila in early November, 2013.

In the morning on the day, a group of people began distributing photocopies of what they said was a “Facebook page”. They claimed that one Rajib Saha had maligned Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) in a post on the page.

Soon, hundreds of people stormed Rajib Saha's house in Bonogram. Later, more gangs joined in to attack the predominantly Hindu village, and vandalised about 26 homesteads.

Three cases were filed, including two in 2014, and charge sheets were submitted against 48 persons in total. The accused were apprehended, but are now out on bail. There has been no further progress in the case, and sources said the delay was due to collection of testimonies.

Another attack took place in Brahmanbaria’s Nasirnagar on October 30, 2016. Religious zealots attacked at least 15 temples in Nasirnagar, and vandalised idols.

They also vandalised, and looted about 100 Hindu homes, and beat over 100 local Hindus over what was claimed to be a Facebook post with hate speech from the account of Rasraj Das, 27, a resident of Haripur union. Six more Hindu houses were torched in the area a few days later.

After the attacks, as many as eight cases were filed, accusing some 2,000 people. So far, 124 suspects, including prime suspect Dewan Atiqur Rahman Ankhi, have been arrested, and produced before the court. All of them are now out on bail, said Brahmanbaria Bazar Session Judge Court’s Public Prosecutor (PP) SM Yusuf.

“The speed of trial is very slow because the number of accused in each case was abnormally high. If the investigation agency could have included the specific people [involved in the crimes], then the trial would progress faster,” the lawyer said.

Another incident took place in Comilla in 2014.

Attacks against Hindu households, and a temple in Homna Upazila of Comilla were carried out after rumours, that two youths had defamed Prophet Muhammad, were spread with loudspeakers.

The charge sheet was submitted immediately after the attack, but there has been no verdict so far.