Remanded for ‘disinformation campaign’, Helena Jahangir faces a string of charges

The police will quiz in custody Helena Jahangir, a businesswoman who was recently sacked from an Awami League subcommittee, for three days in a case initiated under the Digital Security Act.

She is facing a slew of other charges in two other cases. The police will seek her remand in the second case filed under the Telecommunication Act on Saturday, Pallabi Police Station OC Parvez Islam said after the case was initiated sometime before Friday midnight.

The third case involves charges the Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act, Special Powers Act, and the Drugs Act, said Gulshan Police Station Inspector Aminul Islam.

The Rapid Action Battalion arrested her after finding foreign liquor, gambling equipment, foreign currencies, walkie-talkies, and hides of deer and kangaroo in a raid on her Gulshan flat on Thursday night.

The RAB alleged she had attempted to defame important state institutions and individuals by running a propaganda and spreading lies and misleading information using digital platforms.

Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate Rajesh Chowdhury passed the remand order on Friday night after hearing a police petition seeking a five-day remand in the case under the Digital Security Act. He ordered the police to submit the investigation report on Sept 12.

‘A PERSON OF THE GOVERNMENT’

The police said in the remand petition that Helena had “damaged the image of the government and the country by making abusive comments on ministers, MPs and distinguished citizens on digital platforms”.

Md Shafiqul Islam, the lawyer for Helena, pleaded with the court to release her on bail, saying only the individuals who have been allegedly defamed have the right to bring these charges.

The case document also lacks information about when and where Helena had made the defamatory comments, he argued, adding that his client was recognised as a Commercially Important Person by the government.

“I am a person of the government. I've visited 25 countries with the honourable prime minister. Why would I speak against the government?"

Public Prosecutor Abdullah Abu then played an audio of a phone conversation as evidence.

A director of the apex trade body FBCCI and chairperson of Joyjatra TV, Helena also identifies herself as the president of the IP TV Owners Association of Bangladesh.

The Awami League’s subcommittee on women’s affairs fired her as a member recently after her name came up on social media as the president of ‘Bangladesh Awami Chakrijibi League’, a group with no official links to the ruling party.

She also lost her post as an advisor to the Cumilla District Unit of the party after a ‘Chakrijibi League’ post seeking members went viral on social media, putting the Awami League in difficult position.

Citing an initial investigation, the RAB said Helena has membership in 20 clubs.

She had sought the Awami League’s ticket to stand in the Dhaka North City

Corporation elections. She had also wanted to become the party’s candidate for the by-election to Cumilla-5 parliamentary constituency after it fell vacant following the death of former law minister Abdul Matin Khasru. The party snubbed her on both occasions.

OTHER ALLEGATIONS

The RAB conducted another raid on the offices of Joyjatra IPTV owned by Helena and Joyjatra Foundation in Mirpur in the wee hours following her arrest.

Although the Joyjatra TV station had equipment, the law enforcers did not find valid documents for the operation of the IP TV.

The RAB said she presented her as a famous person by posting photos with politicians and celebrities.

She used to make “derogatory” remarks about important individuals and spread “disinformation about them through an organised group for personal gains”, according to the RAB.  

She is accused of demanding extortion and cheating in the name of appointing journalists to Joyjatra TV.

The RAB says it has obtained some documents about the “extortion”.

Helena also had links allegedly with Sefat Ullah, a Bangladeshi expatriate in Austria’s Vienna widely known as ‘Sefuda’ among his Facebook followers.

Sefat Ullah created a string of controversies with bizarre live videos where he used foul language to describe Bangladeshi politicians. 

A Dhaka court ordered his arrest in a case over hurting religious sentiments in 2019.

RAB spokesman Khandaker Al Moyeen said Helena had regular communication and transaction with Sefat Ullah, who calls her “granddaughter”.

Helena, who owns at least three apparel factories, had faced public ire last year after harshly criticising people on social media for protesting against some owners’ decision to keep the plants open amid the first lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. She later apologised for her comments. 

It was not her first gaffe. In 2019, she apologised after a video of her and others singing a romantic film song at a birthday party with the banner of an Iftar gathering in the backdrop had emerged.

Earlier, she reportedly fell in trouble after saying in a Facebook post that she had received an offer to sing a duet with a businessman, who also owns TV stations.