Bangladesh protesters rally against atheist bloggers

By AFP
Published: April 6, 2013
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A file photo of protesters in Bangladesh. PHOTO: REUTERS

A file photo of protesters in Bangladesh. PHOTO: REUTERS

DHAKA: Hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied in Dhaka after an overnight “long march” to the Bangladeshi capital, demanding the execution of atheist bloggers for defaming Islam.

It is the latest protest to rack Bangladesh, deepening tensions between secularists and the largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, whose leaders are under trial for crimes committed during the country’s 1971 war of independence.

The protesters converged on Dhaka’s main commercial hub to protest against what they say are blasphemous writings by atheist bloggers, defying a pro-government national strike by secular protesters – who staged a smaller rival protest in Dhaka Saturday – aimed at resisting the march.

Police said about 100,000 people attended the rally during which protesters chanted “God is great, hang the atheist bloggers”.

Protest organisers, who called the rally the “long march” with many travelling from remote villages, put the number at more than half a million, as Dhaka’s Motijheel commercial area turned into a sea of white robes.

“I’ve come here to fight for Islam. We won’t allow any bloggers to blaspheme our religion and our beloved Prophet Mohammed,” said Shahidul Islam, an imam at a mosque outside Dhaka who walked 20 kilometres.

Hefajat-e-Islam, an Islamic group which draws support from tens of thousands of seminaries, organised the rally in support of its 13-point demand including enactment of a blasphemy law to prosecute and hang atheist bloggers.

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

This week four online writers were arrested on charges of hurting religious sentiment through their Internet writings against Islam.

Following recent protests over the on-going war crimes tribunal the government has blocked about a dozen websites and blogs to stem the unrest. It has also set up a panel, which includes intelligence chiefs, to monitor blasphemy on social media.

Under the country’s cyber laws, a blogger or Internet writer can face up to ten years in jail for defaming a religion.

Dhaka has been virtually cut off from the rest of the country since Friday afternoon – when secularists called a 22-hour nationwide strike to obstruct the march – as private transport operators stopped services fearing clashes between conservatists and secular protesters.

Hefajat-e-Islam has accused the government of ordering the transport shutdown to try to foil its march to the capital. While the secularists claim the main goal of the march is to halt the war crime trials of Jamaat-e-Islami leaders, a charge they deny.

On Friday, a ruling party activist was shot dead after the secularists clashed with hundreds of seminary students holding a rally in support of the march, local police chief Yasir Arafat told AFP.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Apr 6, 2013 - 5:07PM

    What is happening in Bangladesh is truly unprecedented for a country with such large Muslim population.

    The Atheists/Agnostics are going to lose, thats for sure. Political Islam will win again. But, the kind of influence they exert over Bangladesh or Dhaka is pretty awesome.

    Bangladesh is trying to hard to move from being Pakistan to India. Lets see how everything turns out.

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  • Mj
    Apr 6, 2013 - 6:44PM

    The faithful should not be afraid of criticism if their religion stands on solid foundations. Pen is mightier than the sword, and it is better and civilized to refute arguments than to kill opponents.

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  • hasan
    Apr 6, 2013 - 10:05PM

    religion is based on solid ground of understanding, reasoning, logic, and eternal truth. From time to time, every religion must be questioned, reasoned only to recast it fresh, only to rediscover the truth in a more relevant way . Unfortunately, what we are seeing all over the world is this fear and inferior complex against questions and reasons, and we muslims are undoubtedly the champions of intolerance. For thousands of years, all religions face the test of time, reason, harsh questions only to reemerge even stronger more acceptable and relevant. Ashamed to see these rabid mullahs with no knowledge of actual islam raining havoc all around the world. Ashamed to me part of something, where reasoning, questioning, seeking answers are forbidden.

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  • anm salim ullah
    Apr 7, 2013 - 12:13AM

    The world community is struck with awe & wonder at the sight of the brutal actions being perpetrated by this pseudo-democratic govt. In recent days, 170 innocent civilians were shot dead by law-enforcing agencies who often shift the responsibility on BNP & JI only to camouflage its blood-ridden buck teeth. meantime more 5 people were killed by blood thirsty govt goons. We don’t know how the govt would accommodate such a huge piles of human corpse basically nowhere can it hide its big black scar on democracy. awami government seen how bangladeshi people react if any body take stand against islam.one day islam will be the only for our country.because we have seen last 42 years sucked bangladesh by AWAMI LEAGUE,BNP AND JATIO PARTY.

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  • 1984
    Apr 7, 2013 - 5:30AM

    Whats the maximum an atheist has done ???
    Periyar in 1950s beat the Ganesh Statue with a chappal….Other than that,the only thing atheist have done is writing blogs…..If religious people are offended by that,ask to them write blogs about why they should follow their religion or not turn to atheism…..

    Why Da Vinci Code was released,Christians didn’t go around burning the books and trying to kill the author. They just tried to combat it with evidence that Dan Brown’s assertions were false….

    People should have rights,not their beliefs…Beliefs have the right to be questioned,ridiculed if they’re not convincing enough…..

    P.S. Hope my comments on atheism are published atleast today :)

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