On April 5, 2022, the Barisal Cyber Tribunal, which adjudicates alleged cybercrime offenses in Bangladesh’s southern Barisal division, accepted a complaint against Imran Hossain Titu, the Barguna district correspondent for privately owned broadcaster Ekattor TV, for allegedly violating the Digital Security Act, according to a statement by the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists, a local trade group, which CPJ reviewed; a copy of the complaint, which CPJ also reviewed; and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.
The complaint stems from a video investigation by Titu, which was broadcast by Ekattor TV on March 1, 2022, alleging that a local shrine’s management committee, led by Shahidul Islam Mollik, general secretary of the Mirzaganj Union Parishad, an administrative government unit, had engaged in corruption.
Mollik’s nephew, Badal Hossain, filed the complaint, which accused the journalist of violating three sections of the Digital Security Act, pertaining to defamation, unauthorized collection of identity information, and publication of false, threatening, or offensive information, according to those sources. Each of those offenses can carry a prison sentence of between three and five years, and a fine between 300,000 taka (US$3,160) and 1,000,000 taka (US $10,530).
Titu told CPJ that after conducting research for the investigation in Mirzaganj, Hossain had called him on February 19 and urged him not to publish the report.
On February 20, Hossain came to the Ekattor TV office in the town of Patuakhali and offered the journalist a bribe in exchange for agreeing not to publish the report, according to Titu and CCTV footage of the incident, which was shown in Titu’s video investigation.
When reached via messaging app, Hossain denied the allegations that he pressured Titu not to publish the report.
Titu told CPJ that after accepting the complaint, the Barisal Cyber Tribunal subsequently ordered the Mirzaganj police station to investigate the complaint. Anowar Hossain Talukdar, the station’s officer in charge, is the vice president of the shrine’s management, according to Titu and a document issued by the Waqf Administration, a regulatory agency under the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which CPJ reviewed.
Mollik and Talukdar did not respond to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via messaging app.
Titu said that he expects to be summoned for further hearings after the police submits its investigative report to the tribunal. Under Section 40 of the Digital Security Act, investigations are to be completed within 60 days, with the possibility of extension upon court approval. Titu told CPJ that police did not complete the investigation within the 60-day period, adding that he was not informed that they were granted an extension.
Titu said he has repeatedly received direct, in-person threats from politicians and their associates for his extensive reporting on their alleged corruption. He fears these political leaders have banded together in recent months, he told CPJ, and are planning further retaliation against him, including possibly arrest.
CPJ has repeatedly documented the use of the Digital Security Act to harass journalists in retaliation for their work, and has called for the law’s repeal.