Hindu fisherman Rasraj Das has been detained in Bangladesh since October 2016. He was arrested for allegedly posting an “offensive” image on Facebook and charged with “hurting religious sentiment”. He could face up to 14 years in prison if convicted. Even though police have recently stated that he was not responsible for posting the image, the charge has not been dropped and he was denied bail on 3 January. His next bail hearing is scheduled for 16 January.
Rasraj Das, 25, is a fisherman and member of the Hindu ethnic minority in Brahmanbaria district in eastern Bangladesh. On 30 October 2016, hundreds of people gathered in the district to protest a Facebook post allegedly made by Rasraj Das which they claimed insulted Islam. The mob, which allegedly had links to the groups Hefajat-e-Islam and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, went on a rampage through Hindu villages in the area, vandalizing at least 100 homes and several temples.
Rasraj Das was arrested on 30 October and charged by police in Brahmanbaria for violating Section 57 of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Act for “hurting religious sentiment”. Under this draconian law, an individual can face up to 14 years in jail for “publishing fake, obscene or defaming information in electronic form” or information which “prejudices the image of the State or person.” The ICT Act is often used by the Bangladeshi authorities to target, harass and imprison government critics.
On 28 November, a public report by the district police stated that the image had not been uploaded by Rasraj Das, but that someone else had used his Facebook account. A separate report by the National Human Rights Commission also cleared Rasraj Das of posting the image. Despite this, the charge against Rasraj Das has not been dropped and he remains detained in Brahmanbaria District Jail. His application for bail was rejected by a Brahmanbaria court on 3 January. His next bail hearing is scheduled for 16 January.
Rasraj Das’s family is seriously concerned about his well-being in prison, although according to his lawyer he has not suffered torture or other ill-treatment. The family received threats after Rasraj Das’s arrest and were initially forced into hiding, but they were able to return to their home in mid-December.
Please write immediately in English, Bengali or your own language:
Calling on the Bangladeshi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Rasraj Das;
Urging them to promptly investigate the attacks on the Hindu community and bring those suspected of responsibility to account in fair trials and without recourse to the death penalty;
Urging them to repeal Section 57 of the ICT Act and repeal or amend other laws that are not compatible with Bangladesh’s international human rights obligations.
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