On September 29 and 30, 2012, 12 Buddhist monasteries and at least 100 houses in Cox’s Bazar’s Ramu upazila were destroyed and looted because of an alleged desecration of the Quran in a fake Facebook account using the name of Uttam Barua, a Buddhist youth. The violence then expanded to Cox’s Bazar’s Ukhia and Teknaf, as well as Chittagong’s Patiya.
An investigation by The Daily Star (a leading English daily in Bangladesh) revealed that the Facebook profile, with the picture demeaning the Holy Quran which apparently instigated the violence, had been faked. Furthermore, the much-discussed Facebook photo of “Uttam’s foot on the Quran” was a deliberate and deceptive disinformation, in which the accused was just tagged.
Several Facebook users said Uttam Barua, the Ramu youth being accused of Quran defamation, did not post the photo deemed to be offensive to Islam. They said Uttam was tagged in the photo from a Facebook ID called ‘Insult Allah’ and so he was in no way responsible.
The much-talked picture was circulating like wildfire from mobile to mobile via Bluetooth. Rumour was spread that Uttam put his feet on Quran, but the correspondents of the Daily Star saw the picture, shows white feet — wearing nail polish – on the Quran.
Three separate probe reports identifying the attackers and inaction of nonchalant local officials were placed before the High Court (HC). One of the probe reports submitted to the HC on May 16, 2013, blamed the failure of the local administration and intelligence and law enforcement agencies in preventing the mindless attacks.
The police have reportedly submitted seven charge sheets against 385 people to the lower court concerned in Cox’s Bazar, in connection with the cases filed with Ramu police station over the incident. However, the people accused in the charge sheets do not include any officials in the police, local administration, and intelligence agencies. Those 385 people, all of whom are now out on bail. Only some leaders and activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and BNP, including Tofail Ahmed, chairman of Naikhyangchhari upazila of Bandarban, have been named in the charge sheets.
Tofail Ahmed, chair of Naikhangchhari upazila of Bandarban was arrested in connection with attacking and vandalizing of a Buddhist temple at Ramu. His nephew Muktadir instigated Ramu locals by showing fake photo doctored by Omar Faruk, an ex-member of Chhatra Shibir.
Attack duration: Six hours
|Prime actors:The Facebook page with an anti-Islam picture was photo-shopped and Uttam Barua was tagged in the picture. It started from the social media platform, Facebook.The photo was doctored by Omar Faruk, an ex-member of Chhatra Shibir and nephew of Tofail Ahmed, chair of Naikhangchhari upazila of Bandarban.|
Secondary Actors:A group comprising local leaders of pro-Awami League organisations, BNP men, madrasa students and common people.
|Transparency: The actor inciting the violence disguised their identity behind the fake Facebook page and picture.|
Intent: The behaviour suggests aspersive intent.
Dependency: Facebook, the social media platform was used by/on behalf of other actors.
|Uttam was tagged in the photo (showing white feet — wearing nail polish — on the Quran) from a Facebook page called ‘Insult Allah’.|
Harm: The content carries element of threat and possess harm since it incites communal violence and hurts religious sentiment.
Synthetic: The content had been manipulated and faked.
Narrative(s): The content is aligned with the disinformation narrative.
|Target audience:Muslim community|
|Human Rights:right to life, freedom of religion, rights of religious and ethnic minorities threatening the physical well-being of minority community.|
ABCDE Framework Analysis:
The spread of deceptive photo of “Uttam’s foot on the Quran” started from the social media platform, Facebook. Later on, it was circulated from mobile to mobile via Bluetooth. The HC launched probes show the failure of the local administration and intelligence and law enforcement agencies in preventing the attack.
It was a much-focused operation that targeted Buddhist homes and establishments. The Muslim houses nestled between the Buddhist houses were left untouched. A motley group comprising local leaders of pro-Awami League organisations, BNP men, madrasa students and common people were allegedly behind the communal violence at Ramu.
Shamim Ahsan Bulu, a social activist of Fatehkharpul at the upazila, tried to stop a violent procession in the area that night. He found a youth, who took part in an angry rally and later thrown a stone at him, to be a Rohingya.
Bangladesh accused Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in the said attack. “Rohingyas and political opponents of the government were also involved in the attacks.”- as stated by home minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir.
Behaviour: It was found that, the Facebook page with an anti-Islam picture that provoked the September 29, 2012, rampage against the Buddhist community in Ramu was photo-shopped. Somebody or a group had taken a screenshot of Uttam Kumar Barua’s facebook profile page, cut out the address of anti-Islam website ‘Insult Allah’ and pasted it on the address bar visible in the image. Once the fabrication was done, it looked like the website has shared the anti-Islam image with Uttam and 26 others.
Omar Faruk, a youth of Ramu, claimed his friend Abdul Moktadir alias Alif, student of a private polytechnic institute in Chittagong, came to his mobile repairing shop in the evening of September 29. According to Faruk, his friend signed in to his facebook account and made a scene finding Uttam’s profile page bearing the anti-Islam photo. Moktadir and Faruk claimed they had taken screenshots of the “profile page belonging to Uttam”. The fabrication of screenshot could be the first part of the plan behind the mayhem and bringing rioters from outside Ramu was the second part. Why the plotters chose Uttam’s profile is not clear yet.
They created some image files with screenshots of Uttam’s Facebook account. Faruk said they created the files to prove to the locals that the picture insulting the Quran did not belong to them and was from Uttam’s profile. He also added that Uttam’s account suddenly disappeared within a short time after they saved the images. Faruk’s claim was very confusing as no one else, except the account holder, can deactivate a Facebook account.
The chaos came to an end when a police investigation revealed that the photos posted on Facebook were ‘fake’. They had tagged Uttam intentionally in an effort to agitate local Muslims.
The content was created to agitate Muslims and was a pre-planned attack on Buddist community in Ramu. “www.facebook.com/Insultallahswt” appeared in the browser address bar of the profile page of Uttam, according to the screenshot taken by “Abdul Muktadir”. But the image had clear signs of manipulation suggesting that “/Insultallahswt” was pasted there either to hide the real address or to convince people how bad Uttam was. Even the information above the tagged picture on Uttam’s profile –-“Insult allah with Uttam Kumar Barua and 26 others” with a date of September 18 — was similarly forged. It was not possible to know whether this manipulation was done on Faruk’s computer or it was put in his computer after making the images somewhere else.
The content was created targeting Muslims as audience inciting them to commit violence against Buddhist monasteries and communities in Ramu, Cox’s Bazar. Facebook was used as the first source of the dis-informative content and later on it was circulated from mobile to mobile via Bluetooth.
The Ramu attack was a gross violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms including right to life, freedom of religion, rights of religious and ethnic minorities threatening the physical well-being of minority community.
The Case has been identified as incident of disinformation since the said fabricated and fake Facebook post was disseminated will ill intention to mislead and deceit Muslim community.
The cases filed in connection with the Ramu mayhem, one of the worst incidents of communal violence in the recent history of Bangladesh, have been lingering on for the last nine years, without any progress in sight. Although communal harmony has returned after the brutal attacks in Ramu, no progress had been made in terms of meeting out justice to the perpetrators.
Why communal disintegration due to digital disinformation is happening at a large scale in Bangladesh is a fundamental question. To answer, historical perspective, contemporary geopolitics and socio-political environment, and behavioral psychology need to be taken into account. Dominant religious communities throughout the world tend to search for suitable ways to suppress other religious minorities by any means to sustain their supremacy. In Bangladesh, Muslims spontaneously humiliate Hindus in digital platform addressing them “Malaun” or “Malu”, a derogatory term originated from Arabic means “accursed” or “deprived from God’s mercy.
Bangladesh is nurturing poor quality of population who have limited level of knowledge to distinguish what might be right information or disinformation. In the age of information liquidity, individuals are bombarded thousands of information every consecutive day, thus people get confused about information quality and accuracy, and transmit them to others. Not knowing the proper methods of fact checking is another reason attributing to spread of disinformation.