A Dhaka court on Thursday acquitted journalist Probir Sikdar in an ICT case filed over "defaming" former LGRD and Cooperatives Minister Khandker Mosharraf Hossain on Facebook.
Dhaka Cyber Tribunal Judge Mohammad As-Shams Jaglul Hossain gave the acquittal as charges brought against Probir in the case filed six years ago were not proved.
In an interview with The Business Standard hours after his acquittal, Probir Sikdar said he has received justice and that truth has triumphed at the end.
"I think the court has not only acquitted me but also passively conveyed the message that people's freedom of expression should be upheld."
But justice has been achieved after going through extreme physical and mental suffering as well as incredible financial hardship, he mentioned.
"It is very sad that a person has lost six years of his life by appearing in court day after day. I have had to appear in court at least 50 times even after getting bail," he said.
"My family members also regularly went to the court with me as my accomplices in the detention. One day in court seemed like a year to me."
The journalist also elaborated on the financial toll the case took on him.
"Although the cost of handling the case was borne by the human rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), I had to pay for travel and other expenses for attending the court, which I did not calculate. But, the burden of that unnecessary expenditure on me – a disabled person – was heavy as a mountain."
"I didn't get a chance to work. Newspapers were afraid to appoint me. Even businesses were afraid to provide my newspaper with advertisements. I was isolated. I had to make ends meet by selling land in my native home."
"Besides, the suffering of going to and fro the court like this was tantamount to physical abuse. As a result, many more complex diseases have settled in my body. Now my physical condition has turned worse.
"Apart from physical and mental abuse, I have also been socially and politically harassed due to this case."
Probir Sikdar also claimed that the police had tortured him even before making a prayer for remand.
Prabir Sikder said he would consult the lawyers to take legal action to seek compensation for the losses he had suffered because of the false case. "I will take this step once my physical condition improves a bit."
He also criticised the misuse of the Digital Security Act and demanded bail of all people arrested in cases filed under this "black law", withdrawal of all such cases and also abolishment of the law.
"To me, the Digital Security Act enacted by replacing the ICT Act is 'old wine in a new bottle'", he said, adding the law is a major barrier to freedom of expression.
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.
Probir, editor of Daily Bangla 71, was arrested on 16 August 2015 after Faridpur Awami League leader Swapan Kumar Paul filed the case over a Facebook post he made. Later, he got bail.
In the Facebook post, dated 10 August 2015, Probir said his life was under threat and that the then Local Government and Rural Development Minister Khandkar Mosharraf Hossain and two others would be responsible if he was killed.
Lawyers representing both sides in the case finished their arguments in the court on 22 March this year.
The judgment was supposed to be delivered on 11 April, but was delayed due to the Covid-induced lockdown.
Earlier, the tribunal recorded statements of 10 prosecution witnesses including the complainant of the case.