Bangladesh Police Invoked Anti-Porn Law to Crack Down on a Film About Gender Violence

The arrests of the director of courtroom drama along with an actor who played a cop, is the latest in the country’s ongoing “war against pornography”.

A viral scene from a film has landed a filmmaker in jail under the strict pornography law in Bangladesh. The police arrested renowned filmmaker Anonno Mamun late last week for showing a rape survivor being interrogated harshly by a cop in his new film, Nabab LLB

The cop in the Bangla-language film is seen asking the rape survivor brazen questions such as if there was penetration while she was being sexually violated, if the perpetrators ejaculated, or if she was a virgin. 

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The scene drew a sharp response from the country’s police force. They also arrested the lead actor Shaheen Mridha, who plays the cop in the film. 


“There are biased, intentional, untrue and baseless information and lurid presentations in some parts of the movie which go contrary to the established laws of the country,” Md Sohel Rana, the Assistant Inspector General (AIG), Media & PR of the Bangladesh Police, told VICE World News. 

“Moreover, such wrongful and imaginary portrayal of an organisation on such a very sensitive issue presents it quite wrongly before the people it serves,” he added. In a published statement on their portal, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police referred directly to this specific scene and said that the fictional cop’s language towards the rape survivor was “offensive” and “obscene”, and will “create negative perceptions about policing among the public”. 

Media reports stated that the police is now seeking the arrest of Orchita Sporshia, the 27-year-old actor who played the rape survivor. AIG Rana did not confirm this. 

The arrests have triggered a divided response from the film community. The Bangladesh Film Directors Association distanced themselves from Mamun. “As directors, we are ashamed of the activities of Anonno Mamun. We do not support [obscene language in movies],” Mushfiqur Rahman Gulzar, the president of the association, told national news outlet BDNews

Belayat Hossain Mamun, a filmmaker and writer in Dhaka, responded to the arrests via a Facebook post, calling the arrest a “systematic scandal”, and not a “normal process”. “The [Pornography Control Act] law (is) a bad law to make it happen by power,” he added. “This law is against artistic freedom. If this type of 'red ribbon' is tied for storytelling, there will never be a real movie in Bangladesh.”

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

The country’s Pornography Control Act 2012 is its first to criminalise acts relating to porn. It includes obscene dialogue, acting, gestures, and “nude or half-naked dance” that is deemed sexually arousing in films, videos or images. A conviction under the law can lead to jail time of up to seven years. Experts call the definition of pornography “open-ended”. 

“There are two sweepingly wide and entirely subjective elements to this definition: Who is to decide what is or is not “sexually arousing”—and to whom?—and what is the basis on which it must be assessed whether a certain form of media does or does not have artistic or educational value?” Taqbir Huda, a Bangladeshi advocate and coordinator for digital campaigning organisation Justice for All Now, told VICE World News. 

“Since there is no reported jurisprudence under this Act, and it is rarely enforced, it is difficult to assess how this definition would be interpreted by courts and law enforcers in practice,” he added. 

The Muslim-majority country’s “war against pornography” has been ongoing for a while. The law has been invoked in the past to crack down on pornography, especially child porn as well as revenge porn. 

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Earlier this year, the police arrested a college student for posting intimate photos of himself and his ex-girlfriend on social media, and another young man for sending “indecent” photos of his ex-girlfriend to her husband. 

Huda said that the intentional spread of pornography in the above two cases is relatively straightforward. “[But] the more recent arrests under the same law relating to the portrayal of sexual violence (and its consequences) exemplify just how broadly the meaning of pornography can be construed,” he said. 

In June this year, Bangladeshi authorities blocked over 20,000 websites as part of the anti-porn campaign. “I want to create a safe and secure internet for all Bangladeshis including children. This is my war against pornography,” Deutsche Welles quoted Mustafa Jabbar, Bangladesh's post and telecommunications minister as saying. Activists had flagged it as new attempts to silence freedom of expressions.

The invocation of the act also comes amid a media environment that is already tightly regulated and monitored in Bangladesh, to the extent of meriting the description of an “Orwellian dystopia”. Early this year, a Human Rights Watch report documented how the government blocks and surveils online news sites. The report also stated that journalists face 50 to 80 percent censorship of their stories. 

The Bangladesh police are also seeking to arrest actor Orchita Sporshia (pictured) for her portrayal of the rape survivor. Photo via Facebook

Rubaiyat Hossain, a Bangladeshi filmmaker, told VICE World News that this surveillance extends to the entertainment industry as well. “There is a concern about how certain things are represented in Bangladesh. Here, you cannot really separate the state from the cinema,” Hossain told VICE World News.

Hossain noted that the government already gave a nod to Nabab LLB, but that it’s the police community which has raised objections. “My fear is that if everybody starts having an issue, then we cannot show any story,” she said.

 The controversy has also triggered a conversation about the depiction of law enforcements’ treatment of rape survivors. VICE World News could not reach out to the producers of Nabab LLB for comments at the time of publishing this story. 

Hossain has also previously worked with human rights organisations such as Ain O Salish, which documented nearly 1,000 rapes within the first nine months of 2020. She said that the depiction of the questions the rape survivor was asked in the film is accurate. “The way Nabab LLB showed cops asking those questions might not be true for all the police forces, but questions like ‘Were you a virgin’ to a rape survivor is common,” she said. 

“The film touches upon the topic of how patriarchal systems—be it the hospital, a courtroom or a police station—treat women. Women who are raped are still looked upon as dirty and are shunned,” Hossain added. “The arrest is not just about censorship. It’s about our mentality as a society.”

Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.

Tagged:

rape, Bangladesh, violence against women, south asia, worldnews, nabab llb, anonno mamun, pornography laws, anti-porn laws

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