After acquittal in ICT case, a journalist vows to fight for freedom of expression

Journalist Probir Sikdar, who has been acquitted in an ICT case filed over ‘defaming’ former LGRD Minister Khandker Mosharraf Hossain on Facebook, promised to continue his ‘righteous’ fight for freedom of expression.

“The Information Technology Act and the Digital Security Act are being abused in most cases. These laws are obstructing freedom of expression. They must be repealed,” Sikdar told the media after the verdict on Thursday.

In 2015, after being threatened over some of his Facebook posts, Sikdar had tried to register a police complaint in Dhaka, highlighting the threats.

On Aug 10, 2015, Sikdar talked about police's refusal to register the complaint in his Facebook post and blamed former minister Hossain for the threat to his life.

An assistant public prosecutor of Faridpur sued Sikdar for libel under the ICT Act. The case sparked a firestorm of controversy, with claims that the law was being abused.

On Mar 16, 2016, police pressed charges in the Faridpur court, which forwarded the matter to the Cyber Tribunal.

The state and the defence completed their arguments on Mar 22 this year. After two delays, the court acquitted Probir Sikdar on Thursday.

In its observations in the decision, the court noted that the ‘victim’ had not stood as the plaintiff in the case, nor had any close friend or relative. Nor did the alleged victim testify in the case as a witness, the judge said.

The case was, instead, filed by someone who had a distant connection to the alleged victim and, as such, did not have the jurisdiction to file the case, the judge said.

“I will continue to fight for the justice I received today,” said Sikdar. “I will stand for the Liberation War till the end. And I will continue to fight for the elimination of the Razakars that hide and lie in wait.”

Sikdar, son of a Liberation War martyr, published and edited two newspapers. He had also worked for national dailies Janakantha, Samakal and Kaler Kantho.

In 2001, while working for Janakantha, he was attacked and seriously injured, leaving him with a permanent disability.

The journalist claimed he had been attacked by ‘goons’ hired by controversial businessman Moosa Bin Shamsher, who he dubbed an ‘accomplice’ of the Pakistani forces in 1971.

During the Liberation War, Probir’s father, two uncles and grandfather were killed alongside 10 others by Pakistani forces, who dumped their bodies in a river.

“In 1971, we never found my father’s body,” he said. “My uncles and grandfather were murdered cruelly in front of my eyes. I think of this country as my father’s final resting place. I will continue to protest anyone who commits improprieties, irregularities or injustices on this land. And this verdict has only bolstered my courage.”

The journalist said he had incurred many costs in the six years of the trial.

“For six years I fought and I came out the victor. But my life, and my family life has been destroyed. I have had to sell off our family land in order to survive in Dhaka. No one gives me work. Advertisers have shunned my paper. I have had to face all this.”

He also described his experiences in the legal system.

“I have seen how the law serves the purpose of the influential during the course of this trial,” said Probir Sikdar.

He also spoke of the harassment he faced in police custody. “I went to the police to receive the protection of the law, but I ended up facing a case instead.”

Asked if he would seek damages for the case against him, he said that the court had passively indicated that there were laws to handle false cases.

“Most of the cases under this law are false,” he said. “Once I receive a copy of the verdict, I will see what I can do.”