Rasraj Das, who was at the centre of a controversy that triggered violence against the Hindus of Nasirnagar in Brahmanbaria, has welcomed the first verdict in one of the eight cases over the attacks.
The man, however, wonders when the case proceedings against him over a Facebook photo allegedly posted by somebody else forging his name will end.
He was in jail for two and a half months after the incident on Oct 30, 2016. After six more years, the poor fisherman still has to appear in court hearings against him under the ICT Act.
On Thursday, a Brahmanbaria court jailed 13 people for four years each over the attack on a Durga temple during the 2016 violence.
"We’re happy that those who committed a crime have been punished. I wish the case against me had ended and I had been freed from the proceedings,” he said after the delivery of the verdict.
"As a poor fisherman, attending court hearings is becoming increasingly difficult for me. It's affecting my daily work and making it harder to support my family.”
One night of fishing in the pond can earn him Tk 300 as there is no fish in the dried-up river, said Rasraj.
He said he has informed his lawyer, but not the court, about the situation as the judge adjourns the hearing repeatedly. The last time he appeared in court was in February.
Rasraj has to travel from Brahmanbaria to Chattogam in order to appear before the court as the case has been transferred to the cyber tribunal in Chattogram after a police report, said Md Nasir, a lawyer for Rasraj in Brahmanbaria.
Nasir has arranged for another lawyer to represent Rasraj in Chattogram.
It cost Rasraj Tk 4,000 to Tk 5,000 to attend a hearing as he needs to stay in Chattogram for at least three days.
Nasir did not take fees from Rasraj to represent him. The lawyer in Chattogram, Bhulan Bhowmik, is also working for Rasraj for free at the request of Shahriar Kabir after the fisherman contacted the executive president of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee.
Bhulan said the cyber tribunal has not framed the charges formally pressed by police against Rasraj. It’s not clear whether the charges will be framed against him or not, the lawyer said.
Rasraj said he did not have a smartphone and lacked the knowledge to access Facebook.
“I didn't even know what Facebook was. However, on the day of the incident, a group of people beat me up and picked me up from the house. I was seriously injured. Then they handed me over to the police,” Rasraj had said after the attack.
Rasraj’s brother Doyamoy said he and Rasraj cannot even write their own names. “Our other brother Palash is the only one who went to school. He studied until the third grade.”
During the investigation, the Police Bureau of Investigation discovered that the offensive picture was not uploaded from Rasraj's mobile phone.
The photo was edited at Al Amin Cyber Point and Studio in Harinber Bazar, owned by a man named Jahangir Alam.
After his arrest in November 2022, Jahangir confessed to printing the religiously offensive picture from his cyber café and distributing it as leaflets in the vicinity.
Still, the police accused Rasraj and filed a report, said lawyer Nasir. "I cannot say much since the case is still ongoing, but there is no evidence against Rasraj to support the allegations."
The PBI and the Criminal Investigation Department did not find evidence in forensic tests that Rasraj posted the photo on Facebook, he said.
Mohammad Iqbal Hossain, a Detective Branch inspector from Brahmanbaria who investigated the case, charged Rasraj in court in December 2021.
Iqbal claimed Rasraj wrote another post apologising for the offensive photo after deleting it and police had forensic evidence to back the allegation.
“The charges were filed after a thorough examination of all devices, expert opinions, evidence and circumstances related to the case.”
Lawyer Nasir said a witness also testified against Rasraj.
Lawyer Bhulan said he informed the cyber tribunal judge about Rasraj’s illiteracy, but the judge wanted to hear witnesses’ accounts before drawing a conclusion.
Bhulan suggested that seeking the High Court’s intervention to have the case quashed can be an option to end the proceedings early.
[Writing in English by Arshi Fatiha Quazi]