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With Bloggers in Mind, Bangladeshi Islamist Group Demands Law Against Blasphemy

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, April 19 2013

The links to suspended Bangladesh blogs.

A radical pro-Islam group has demanded the Bangladesh government introduce a new blasphemy law in order to suppress a growing number of “atheist bloggers.” However, four bloggers have already been arrested for posting “anti-religious” statements on their blogs. Among the arrested is the award-winning blogger Asif Mohiuddin. His blog and the three others were taken down by the hosting platform, Somewhereinblog.net, after operators received takedown requests from the Bangladesh government.

The government committee behind the arrests was formed March 13 to track bloggers and Facebook users who made derogatory remarks about Islam and the Prophet. This was in response to Islamists claiming that bloggers supporting the Shahbag movement, which techPresident covered in February, are atheist and anti-Islamic and foster anti-social attitudes. The Shahbag protests demanded capital punishment for the country’s war criminals, including some high-ranking leaders of the largest Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami.

Another blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, was brutally murdered on February 15. Under the pseudonym Thaba Baba (Captain Claw), he was at the forefront of blogger and online activist protests. He had written about war criminals and Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh for years. The student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami party apparently ordered the slaying, according to the five students who have confessed to carrying it out.

The radical group known as Hefajat-e-Islam – which means 'protector of Islam' – is the Islamist answer to the Shahbag movement. While Shahbag seems to have lost strength, over 100,000 people came together on April 6 in central Dhaka in support of the new movement. They have threatened the government to bring Dhaka to a standstill if their demands, which include the law against blasphemy, are not met by May 5. It has also demanded they reinstate pledges to Allah in the constitution, ban women and men from mixing freely and make an Islamic education mandatory. Some say this would result in the ‘Talibanisation’ of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is a non-religious parliamentary democracy, so if anybody claims to be an atheist they should have the same rights as other citizens. Even if they do not and have not yet instated a blasphemy law, however, the government seems all to willing to persecute bloggers, perhaps using this law as justification: “Under Section 295A of Bangladesh's Penal Code (1860), any person who has a “deliberate” or “malicious” intention of “hurting religious sentiments” is liable to imprisonment.”

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.