The court has ruled that his online adventurism is sufficient ground to try him on charges of cyber terrorism. But even as Mehdi Masroor Biswas, a 25-year-old electrical engineer from West Bengal, becomes among the first to be charged with terrorism for activities that took place in the virtual world, his father says he isn’t worried about the “virtual charges” but his son’s condition in prison.
“I simply don’t understand the charges against him. They are accusing him of terrorism, but I don’t know what he has done. I trust that the judiciary will realise my son’s innocence. I am sure of that. I am more worried about the condition he’s in. If I want to meet my son, we have to pay hundred-rupee notes at several stops as bribe. They forced him to pay up Rs 500 on Eid, so that he could pray. What I am worried about aren’t these ‘virtual’ charges, but the reality he is in…should we forget about the real world,” said Dr Mekail Biswas, Masroor’s father.
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The 25-year-old is set to face trial at a special terrorism court in Bengaluru – where he had worked as an IT professional, until his arrest in December 2014. He’s been booked under Section 66 F of the Information Technology Act, a charge that carries maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
His family, meanwhile, is in a prison of their own. His father, a retired engineer with the state government and a homeopathic doctor, doesn’t like stepping out of the house anymore. His mother, who doesn’t speak any language apart from her native Bengali, is quickly learning to speak Kannada. A sister, who teaches philosophy at a school, tries hard to mask her grief as she continues working. All of them are convinced of Masroor’s innocence.
But the prosecution alleges that Biswas had tweeted and re-tweeted thousands of IS messages and posted pictures in support of terror acts of the Islamic State. It further claims that his Twitter account had allegedly become a ‘meeting place’ for IS supporters looking to connect with IS leaders, and to enable IS recruitment. He is also allegedly helped a Western recruit cross into Syria from Turkey, maintains the prosecution.
The allegations against their youngest son — the first in the family to study in ‘English medium’ throughout and eventually get a ‘dream job’ as an IT professional” — have the family shattered.
“It’s not easy. We are not a rich family. We belong to the Other Backward Classes and he (Masroor) was actually the first one to get a well-paying job. Now, we count every single rupee. Whether it’s the bus pass to go see our son or the daily living expenditure of fighting this case in Bengaluru. I know that he’ll be declared innocent. But by that time, there will be nothing left of the family,” said a family member, who didn’t wish to be named.
The family claims that the reportage in the local press has further isolated them. They live in Kaikhali, a locality in North-24 Parganas, bordering Kolkata. It is a neighborhood where people stand by each other when tragedy befalls. Not in this case though, claims Masroor’s family.
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“When I went and visited him in Bengaluru during Durga Puja to wish him, the first thing he asked me was if his friends had come and asked about him. I could tell that he had been thinking about them in prison. But I couldn’t lie to him. I told him the truth. I told him that he was alone, and so were we. No one had come,” said Dr Mekail.