This edition of ‘From the Court Corridor’ curates the notable pronouncements of the High Court Division (HCD) of the Supreme Court (SC) of Bangladesh in August 2021.
Issuing rule to formulate policy to prevent bullying at educational institutions
On 16 August 2021 Tanvir Ahmed, a HCD lawyer, filed a writ petition (WP) to stop bullying at educational institutions following the death of a 16-year-old, Azwad Ahnaf Karim, a student of class 10 at Ideal School and College (Banasree branch, Dhaka). The boy allegedly died as a victim of body shaming as he was overweight and was routinely bullied and ridiculed by his classmates and teachers at school.
To lose weight, the boy began an internet-based diet program. Though he lost some weight by December 2020, some significant physical and mental changes became apparent in January–February 2021, and he was referred to a doctor. Soon his weight began falling quickly, and in May 2021 he weighed only 29 kg (compared to 93 kg in June–July 2020). As the doctor said, he was suffering from anorexia nervosa, a dietary disorder that also causes mental health issues in the victim. People suffering from the disease want to avoid eating or eat far less than they require because they are scared of gaining weight. On the night of 25 June 2021 the boy was admitted to Dhaka’s United Hospital for pneumonia and he died there the next day.
Responding to the WP, the HCD virtual bench of Justice M Enayetur Rahim and Justice Md Mostafizur Rahman has issued a rule on 22 August 2021 asking for an explanation as to why the inaction and indifference of the authorities in stopping bullying at educational institutions should not be declared illegal. The court asked why a policy should not be formed to prevent such bullying. The education secretary, the law secretary, the secretary to the ministry of women and children’s affairs, district education officials, upazila education officials and the principal of Ideal School and College have been asked to respond to the rule within four weeks. The HCD also directed the Education Officer of the Dhaka district to submit a report upon investigation on the death of the boy within 60 days.
Bullying can have a harmful impact on a child’s physical, social, emotional, academic, and mental health. They may experience depression and anxiety, increasing feelings of melancholy and isolation, changes in sleeping and eating habits, and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Additionally, they may be more prone to miss, skip, or drop out of school, resulting in lower academic achievement and participation in school.
Having an anti-bullying policy in educational institutions may have a significant role in preventing bullying. Hopefully, such a policy will soon be formulated complying with the HCD decision.
Asking for decision on whether pregnant women would be allowed to receive COVID-19 vaccine
On 29 July 2021 four SC lawyers, including a pregnant woman lawyer, served a legal notice to the Health Secretary, the Chief Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Office, the Cabinet Secretary, the Director General of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) and the Director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) asking them to arrange for the immunisation of pregnant women. Getting no response, they filed a WP on 31 July 2021 seeking directions to vaccinate pregnant women on a priority basis.
Advocate Mohmmad Humayun Kabir Pallab represented the petitioners, while Deputy Attorney General Samarendra Nath Biswas and Bipul Bagmar were the state counsels. While hearing, the petitioners asserted that every year approximately 35 lac women in the country become pregnant, where since the outbreak of COVID-19 thousands of expectant mothers and children died as a result, or with the symptoms of Covid-19 infection. If the pregnant mothers get vaccines on a priority basis, the number of deaths can be decreased. It was also stated that the expecting mothers had no option to register for the vaccine in the Surokkha App. This violated their right to be vaccinated, which they asserted is a constitutional right. Thus, the petitioners asked the HCD to pass necessary directives to the defendants so that they take necessary measures in this regard.
After hearing of the WP the HCD virtual bench of Justice M Enayetur Rahim issued a verbal order on 2 August 2021 on the government to decide in 72 hours whether pregnant women would be allowed to receive COVID-19 vaccine. The court asked the attorney general AM Amin Uddin to contact the DGHS and the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NAITAG), and request that they finalize and announce the decision within the stipulated time.
Accordingly, NAITAG informed the DGHS on the same day (2 August 2021) recommending that the Covid-19 vaccine can be rolled out anytime to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. This is another example of the intervention of the higher judiciary in establishing and securing the rights of the citizens. Such kind of directions from the apex courts of the country is praiseworthy.
Directing the government to ban harmful apps and games like TikTok, Likee, PUBG and Free Fire
On 19 June 2021 SC lawyers Mohammad Humayun Kabir Pallob and Mohammed Kawsar – on behalf of Law and Life Foundation – sent a legal notice requesting the government to ban the games (PUBG and Free Fire), short video sharing platforms (TikTok, Likee) and live streaming platforms (Bigo Live). As they got no response from the government, they filed a WP in this regard as a public interest litigation on 24 June 2021.
The petitioners contended that these online games and apps negatively affect social and cultural values and the youths and adolescents have been seriously addicted to the aforementioned games and apps. Using such platforms, the youths sometimes commit violent and immoral activities. So, it is high time to ban such games and apps immediately.
Besides, they requested the HCD to form a committee comprising technologists, educationists and lawyers so that the committee can recommend Bangladesh Telecommunication and Regulatory Commission (BTRC) for banning harmful apps and games. At the same time they urged the HCD to order the concerned authorities to identify the persons associated with laundering crores of taka using these platforms.
Hearing the WP on 16 August 2021 the HCD bench of Justice Mozibur Rahman Miah and Justice Kamrul Hossain ordered the concerned authorities to remove without delay all dangerous games and apps – including TikTok, Likee, Free Fire, PUBG and Bigo Live – from Bangladeshi platforms for three months. The court also issued a rule asking the secretaries of the Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology Ministry, chairman of the BTRC, secretaries of the Education Ministry, Law Ministry, Health Ministry, the inspector general of police, Bangladesh Bank, bKash, Nagad and 18 others to explain in ten days why their inactivity to ban these apps and games should not be declared illegal.
This decision of the HCD is highly commendable. And as seen, the BTRC has already started the process to outlaw harmful online games (PUBG and Free Fire) after receiving the HCD directive on 24 August 2021. The telecom regulator also began listing similar kind of apps, including TikTok, Likee and Bigo Live.
On the other hand, Mustafa Jabbar, Minister of Post and Telecommunication, opined in this regard that ‘banning anything is not really a solution’ nowadays. Because, using VPN, anyone can access the banned platforms at any time. So, only banning the platforms ‘will not change anything dramatically’ if the guardians do not control their children’s activity and they are not aware of the potential negative consequences.
Summoning two investigating officers on the death of Minu Akhter who served proxy jail for three years
In October 2007 one Kulsum Akhter (alias Kulsumi) was arrested in a murder case and found guilty by Chattogram’s Fourth Additional Metropolitan Sessions Court on 30 November 2017. The court awarded her imprisonment for life and a fine of BDT 50,000.
However, one Minu Akhter – a mother of three children, who dwelled in a slum in the Chattogram city – surrendered to police on 12 June 2018 impersonating Kulsum and began serving imprisonment. On 18 March 2021 Md Safiqul Islam Khan, Senior Jail Superintendent of Chattogram Central Jail, identified the issue of fraudulence and brought it to the attention of a Chattogram court. Being brought before the court on 22 March 2021 Minu testified that three years ago one Morzina sent her to jail promising to give her some rice. Morzina also assured Minu to bring her out of the jail after Ramadan that year.
Afterwards a sub-document of the case was presented to the HCD by Mohammad Shishir Monir. On 7 June 2021 the HCD issued a release order of Minu who had been undergoing the life imprisonment instead of actual offender Kulsum. Minu was finally released on 16 June 2021. However, unfortunately, Minu died in a road accident on 28 June 2021 right after 12 days of her release.
Seeking an inquiry into Minu’s death, Advocate Mohammad Shishir Monir filed a petition to the HCD. Deputy Attorney General Mohammad Sarwar Hossain appeared on behalf of the state in the hearing.
After the hearing on 16 August 2021 the HCD bench of Justice Jahangir Hossain and Justice Md Atoar Rahman summoned two investigating officers (IOs) – Sub-Inspector (SI) of Kotwali police station (PS) Zubaiyer Mridha and SI of Bayezid Bostami PS Khorshed Alam – to appear before it on 1 September 2021. Besides, they were asked to submit the post-mortem report of Minu’s death and her confessional statement on how she went behind bars instead of Kulsum Akter and other case documents. The HCD also summoned the special public prosecutor of Chittagong Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-2, MA Naser, junior lawyers Nurul Anwar and Bibekananda Chowdhury, and clerk Showrav to appear before the HCD virtually on September 1 to explain in writing whether there were any fraudulent practices or whether they had any involvement in sending Minu to jail instead of Kulsum.
On 1 September 2021 the two IOs accordingly appeared with the inquest and post mortem report of Minu’s dead body. During the hearing the HCD ordered the IOs to investigate seriously into the matters why Minu went three kilometers away from home at midnight, if the convicts had any involvement in jailing her with a proxy, or if there was someone else’s involvement in the incident. The court also suggested taking instructions from senior officials if necessary. The HCD further said that the biometric system needed to be introduced in the prisons referring to a rule issued earlier on 28 June 2021 on the government for introducing biometric data management in prisons to properly identify the prisoners so that no other Minu should fall into such proxy sentence and to stop repeating such incident.
Imprisonment of a person without any wrong is a serious infringement of human rights. The persons responsible for such condemnable work should be brought under law. As seen in the present case, by executing the aforementioned directives, the SC can play a significant role in this regard. Besides, standard data management of the prisoners is also necessary to get rid of such unexpected and unfortunate incidents.
 US Department of Health and Science, ‘Effects of Bullying’ (stopbullying.gov, 21 May 2021) <www.stopbullying.gov/bullying/effects> accessed 25 September 2021.
 ‘Is govt going to ban PUBG and Free Fire in Bangladesh?’ The Daily Star (Dhaka, 29 May 2021) <www.thedailystar.net/toggle/news/govt-going-ban-pubg-and-free-fire-bangladesh-2101145> accessed 26 September 2021.