Bangladesh arrests three atheist bloggers

By AFP
Published: April 2, 2013
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A file photo of protesters in Bangladesh. PHOTO: REUTERS

A file photo of protesters in Bangladesh. PHOTO: REUTERS

DHAKA: Bangladesh police have arrested three atheist bloggers for allegedly defaming Islam and the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), police said Tuesday, amid calls from religious fundamentalists for an Internet crackdown.

The arrest of the three, who were paraded in handcuffs at a news conference, followed pressure from Islamic groups who have organised a march from all over the country to the capital to demand the death penalty for atheist bloggers.

“They have hurt the religious feelings of the people by writing against different religions and their prophets and founders including the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh),” said deputy commissioner of Dhaka police, Molla Nazrul Islam.

The three could face 10 years in jail if convicted under the country’s cyber laws which outlaw “defaming” a religion, Islam said.

He denied the arrests were linked to the planned march to Dhaka set for Saturday.

Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan said the three arrested men were among 84 “atheist bloggers” named in a list handed over by an Islamist group to a government panel probing alleged blasphemy against Islam on the Internet.

“The arrests were made on primary information” and further investigation is underway, Khan said, adding the government would act toughly to prevent any attempt to upset “communal harmony” via the Internet.

There has been vociferous debate between staunch atheists and fundamentalists in Bangladesh’s blogosphere and on social media for years, but it took a deadly turn in February when an atheist blogger was murdered.

The arrests came as Bangladesh has been hit by violent protests over a war crimes tribunal which is trying leading people who opposed the country’s independence from Pakistan during the 1971 liberation war.

Protests encouraged by secular bloggers have seen hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets demanding the execution of leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, the country’s largest Islamic party and key opposition.

Islamic groups have in turn held demonstrations demanding the trials be halted and have also begun targeting bloggers.

The government has blocked about a dozen websites and blogs to stem the unrest. It also set up a panel, which included intelligence chiefs, to snoop for blasphemy in the social media.

Last week the telecoms regulator ordered two sites to remove hundreds of posts of seven bloggers whose writings it said offended Muslims.

Meanwhile, a group of bloggers protested the overnight arrests of the three men and said their detention meant the government is caving in to pressure from Islamic groups.

“We demand their release. The future of Bangladesh is bleak if the freedom expression of the bloggers is curbed,” Fahmidul Haq, a blogger and Dhaka University professor, said at a news conference.

Haq said the lives of the 84 bloggers who were named in the list prepared by Islamic groups now were at risk.

Scores of bloggers held hands to form a human chain in Dhaka to protest the arrests while a popular blog site, Amarblog.com, said it was shutting down until the bloggers were freed “unconditionally”.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Zainab
    Apr 2, 2013 - 8:21PM

    Islam, the religion of peace!

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  • Waqar
    Apr 2, 2013 - 8:45PM

    Atheism is rare in islamic countries. It is almost a miracle to find one. They should be deported without any harm.

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  • Baras
    Apr 2, 2013 - 11:34PM

    @Waqar:

    Deported where? I’m an atheist, born in Pakistan. Where would I get deported to?

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  • G. Din
    Apr 2, 2013 - 11:35PM

    @Waqar:
    Atheism is rare in islamic countries.
    Surprise! Surprise!

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  • i
    Apr 3, 2013 - 12:07AM

    @Waqar:

    why deported? is bangladesh not their country just as much as anyone elses?

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  • Bilal
    Apr 3, 2013 - 3:07AM

    Deported where to exactly? It is their country as much as anyone else’s. They have a right to be there just like anyone else of any other faith!

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  • Ali
    Apr 3, 2013 - 9:31AM

    @Waqar
    Your stupidity is just outrageous. You live in the bubble of your ancient desert cult unaware of the fact that people are waking up in mass to the absurdities of bronze age myths that have taken the full blown shapes of religion. I’m a Pakistani Atheist and I know full well how many closeted Atheists live in this country.

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  • opler
    Apr 3, 2013 - 11:17AM

    @waqar: atheists are rare because if someone says he’s an atheist, he will have to face death penalty!

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  • Anis Aslam
    Apr 4, 2013 - 3:44AM

    A Dhaka court on Tuesday sent three bloggers on a 7-day remand who were detained on charges of offending Islam.
    Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate Tareq Moinul Islam granted the remand, although police requested remand for 10 days. Reference: Bangla News

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