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Bangladesh: The Facebook Status Controversy

Facebook is becoming a popular social media in Bangladesh like the rest of the world. It is not only limited to interaction between friends but also used as an useful tool to disseminate news and information. More importantly Facebook is also being used to discuss political views.

Bangladeshi Facebook users frequently express their opinions, anger, rights, likes and dislikes and some of them are filled with emotions. Once someone posted this status in a Facebook wall which became viral: “I may be poor, but I have a Status”. Now this slogan also has a separate Facebook page.

Facebook Status

Image by Flickr user Christy Sheffield. CC By-NC 2.0

But sometime your Facebook status can bring peril. Ruhul Amin recently has been in trouble because of his Facebook status. The recent death of prodigies Tareq Masud and Ashfaque Munier in a road accident has lead many users venting their reactions and anger in Facebook. Ruhul also expressed his strong reactions which led to actions against him as initiated by the Bangladesh High Court.

What was Ruhul's status? BDNews24blog [bn] quotes from the web news network BDNEWS24.com:

The Highcourt has asked why Ruhul Amin Khondker, a teacher living abroad, won't be brought to justice because he expressed that the Prime Minister should die.

The blog informs:

Ruhul, a lecturer of The Institute of Information Technology of Jahangirnagar University is now on a study leave in Australia. Ruhul had posted a Facebook status where he expressed “why the prime minister do not die”. This was prompted by the reaction to the death of five persons including internationally renowned filmmaker Tareq Masud and the CEO of the TV channel ATN News Ashfaq (Mishuk) Munier in a road accident near Manikganj. A local newspaper carried the story on the Facebook status of the teacher. The court learned the news and took a Suo motu action.

Mr. Ruhul posted two statuses on his wall. He wrote on Saturday 7.40 pm: “the consequence of issuing driving license without written exam – five dead including Tareque and Mishuk Munier. Everybody dies except the prime minister”. Another status on Sunday morning at 4:59 am read: “Driving License without written exam? Can you imagine this in any civilized society? Where the whole world is becoming strict on issuing driving license, the Hasina government is issuing license without examination.”

The main anger behind the status is the reaction to the news [bn] that the Shipping Minister had requested the Roads and Highways Minister that 21000 applicants (some claim 24000 people) should be provided [bn] driving license without completing all the tests (since many are not literate enough).

The post at BDNews24blog attracted many comments [bn]. Some supported Ruhul and some had other ideas.

Rabbani said:

I also support Ruhul's status and term the rule of the highcourt as a misuse of power and rule of law and it is agaisnt the human rights of common people. Ruhul with his words has protested against the negligence of the political leaders about the 12000 deaths on the road each year.

Mohammad Morshed Alam thinks this law is a blow to the freedom of speech. He comments:

Isn't attack on freedom of speech against democracy? Hasn't this weakened the trust on our judicial system? Dear judges – please refrain from taking away the hast hope of the citizens. (Friday the 19th of August)

Mohsin Rahman says:

The teacher commented from his personal anger which in fact reflects many citizen's thoughts. What the teacher couldn't do was achieved by those judges. The issue has been highlighted and publicized by the media. (Friday the 19th of August)

Hasan says:

I fear to comment on this, if accusations against me are brought for contempt of court! :P (Friday the 19th of August)

Ratan Adhikary says these comments are out of line. He says:

This is way out of line. What Part-time lecturer Muhammad Ruhul Amin Khondoker said cannot be supported in any way. We hope Mr. Ruhul and his supporters become aware of their behavior. (Friday the 19th of August)

Netpoka says:

This type of comment is very indecent. But on what basis is this against the law, can anyone tell? (Friday the 19th of August)

Extreme regulations lead to censorship. Image by Flickr user publik15 (CC BY 2.0).

Extreme regulations lead to censorship. Image by Flickr user publik15 (CC BY 2.0).

Anik Iqbal is a blogger. He posted in a group mail of the students of Jahangir Nagar University (published with permission):

I am interested to see whether government can really strongly build the case and justify their argument. but if they decide to go for it, a lot will be at stake. the government's character as the protector of its citizens’ personal rights will be in question. again, their attitude might be termed as oppression and silencing people's opinions by force. whether or not they win the case, chances are that it will damage their image, which is already in jeopardy.

Ruhul Amin gave an interview via email to Bangla News [bn] where he provided the context of his statements:

Dear brothers and sisters:

I should not reiterate what we have lost in the tragic death of Tareq Masud and Mishuk Munier. The day they died I was reading online versions of Bangladeshi newspapers. I also tried to find other news items on this. I was moved by the hundreds of comments left on those news items. I was so full of emotion, I compiled some of the quotes and posted in my status.

He added:

I say without any hesitation that I do not have any personal grudge against the Prime Minister and do not pose any threat against her by my status in any manner. I just wanted to share with my friends the reactions of common people on that road accident. So by terming this statement as completely my own statement is against the truth. I have trust on my Prime Minister, especially as a teacher of an independent university. Moreover, if that status hurt others feeling I am truly sorry for that.

Ruhul ends with this:

The misinterpretation of the status has lead to unwanted consequences. I hope the unfortunate matter will end here.

Anik conludes:

I am keenly following the developments. this case, at the least, will decide the future of the flourishing of electronic media and define people's right to share their opinions over this very modern and powerful medium.

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