Bangladesh: Story of Hindu Minority boy Poritosh Sarkar
© Pradip Chandra
Accused in DSA Case: Teen boy Poritosh Sarkar spent 8 months in solitary confinement. On October 17, 2021, an entire fishing village in Rangpur’s Pirganj upazila was set ablaze allegedly because a Hindu teen hurt the religious sentiments of the locals through a derogatory social media post.
For this “crime”, Poritosh Sarkar, a 10th grader at the time of the incident, was put into solitary confinement for eight whole months. The prison authorities had told Poritosh’s lawyer and his family that he was being kept there “for his safety”.
Speaking at a Rangpur court on February 5, Poritosh said, “I was told I was being kept where death-row convicts are kept [solitary confinement] because some of the people who had set fire to the village were also in the same prison and that they would beat me up.”
He was out on bail and had shown up at court for a hearing. Within three hours of it, however, he was back in jail as the judge overruled his bail and sent him there to await the verdict in the Digital Security Act case filed against him.
“I was not allowed to step out of my jail cell for eight months, not for a single day. There were no windows — just a vent at the top of the cell, which was blocked. I had no way of knowing if it was day or night from inside the cell.”
“I counted the days by the meals being given to me. They used to give me my meals through a small opening in the main door. Three times a day, I could see some light through that opening,” he described, adding that the jail cell was equipped with a toilet and a tap for bathing.
“Not one single person spoke to me during those days. I tried talking to the guards but they would not respond,” said the 19-year-old.
“I spent my days reading books that the jail authorities gave me but there came a day when the higher authorities forbade that too. I spent two and a half months without books or anything to do,” Poritosh told this correspondent in the court premises.
This teenager — who has not yet been convicted and was still undergoing trial — was handed down this inhumane punishment, reserved for the hardest of criminals, just for a Facebook comment that he allegedly made.
However, till now no evidence has been found that Poritosh had made any such derogatory post as his phone was broken beyond repair and the Criminal Investigation Department of police was unable to conduct forensic tests on it.
Solitary confinement that lasts longer than 15 consecutive days is recognised by the United Nations as “torture”.
Speaking to The Daily Star yesterday, Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua, eminent human rights lawyer, said, “Solitary confinement is only for the most hardened criminals, who can harm or kill other inmates. If the jail authorities kept him there for his ‘safety’, then they failed in their duty to keep him safe.”
Poritosh further told this paper that during his time in the cell he felt suicidal, wanting to end it all. “But then I would think of my parents, and that I am their only son. That would make me choose to keep living.”
His father, a poor fish-seller at Pirganj upazila, had educated Poritosh in hopes that he would be their future. Poritosh’s lawyer Advocate Shamim al Mamun told the court on Sunday, “The prison authorities had restricted access to Poritosh to an extent that even I was not able to talk to him until he was finally released on bail.” Poritosh was denied bail a total of three times by the Rangpur Cyber Tribunal. He was finally released on bail on May 9, 2022, after a High Court order was issued in this regard. But on February 5, sessions judge of the tribunal Dr Abdul Mojid sent him to jail again to await a verdict. At the moment, Poritosh is the only person in jail over the Pirganj violence.
“A total of 74 people were arrested for the arson and communal violence, while another 72 are on the run. Those arrested are all out on bail at the moment,” said Mahbub Rahman, officer-in-charge (investigation) of Pirganj Police Station. Also out on bail are the village mosque’s moazzem Rabiul Islam, who made the calls for people to gather; Saikat Mandal, the mastermind of the incident; and Ujjal Hasan, who had first taken a screenshot of Poritosh’s social media activity and spread it.
Even while they were in jail, they did not have to undergo solitary confinement.
Meanwhile, Poritosh was accused of “hurting religious sentiments, creating communal enmity, ruining religious harmony” and thrown into a cell that was locked at all times.
According to the data computed by this newspaper in February last year, 60 percent of all those prosecuted for “hurting religious sentiments” under the DSA belong to Hindu community — meaning they are targeted more by this law than members of the religious majority.
The Daily Star found this statistic by analysing the details of the 90 people who were booked under this law between 2020 and 2021.
The case data was provided by DSA Tracker, a project of Centre for Governance Studies.
Two hours after Sunday’s hearing, the judge announced the verdict while Poritosh waited at the docket, crying silently.
As his mother saw her only son being dragged away, she began howling in despair.
“I brought my son to the court only for the hearing. Why is he being sent to jail again?” she wailed.
Barrister Barua questioned the judge’s decision to send Poritosh to jail again using a conviction warrant.”The judge had not written an order; the conviction had not been given. Then how was he arrested on a conviction warrant.