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Protests Against Arrest of Bloggers Charged with Blasphemy in Bangladesh

This post is part of our Special Coverage Bangladesh's #Shahbag Protests

Bangladesh Police's detective branch detained four bloggers for their posts which allegedly insult Islam and the Prophet Muhammad and “hurt religious feelings”.

On the evening of Monday, April 1, 2013, Rasel Parvez, Mashiur Rahman Biplob and Subrata Adhikari Shuvo were detained and they were remanded for seven days the following day. On April 3, 2013 award winning blogger Asif Mohiuddin was also detained by the detective branch and remanded for three days.

Their laptops, mobile phones and other devices were also confiscated. MK Alamgir, the Home Minister of Bangladesh informed that the hunt is on to arrest seven more bloggers. Th arrested bloggers are associated with the Shahbag movement, which is demanding capital punishment for war crimes committed during Bangladesh's liberation war and calling for a ban on religious politics.

AmarBlog.com, a popular bloggging platform, has also been blocked in Bangladesh. The blog refused to provide information to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission on certain bloggers who are accused of insulting Islam.

Blackout of blogging platforms and individual blogs in protest against the arrest of bloggers

Many popular Bangladeshi blogging platforms and individual blogs have blacked out their websites in protest over the arrests of bloggers.

The 84 accused bloggers

Different religious parties and Islamists have accused bloggers and online activists of published on blogs and Facebook words that insult Islam and Prophet Muhammad. During the peak of the #Shahbag protests they started labeling the bloggers as atheists. They  alleged that the #Shahbag uprising was instigated by Islamophobe atheist bloggers (because most of the war criminals under trial belong to an Islamist party). They soon launched a campaign against the bloggers demanding their arrest. Yielding to their pressure the government constituted a committee on 13 March to identify the atheist bloggers and take actions against them. On 31 March the committee met with Islamist intellectuals and clerics who handed over a list of '84 bloggers’ accused of being atheists and propagandists and urged action against them. The arrested bloggers are on that list. To build pressure, a radical Islamist organization called “Hefazot-e-Islam Bangladesh’ has also said it will march towards Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh on 6 April.

One of the arrested bloggers, Asif Mohiuddin was brutally attacked in February. Ahmed Rajib Haider, another blogger associated with the Shahbag protests was killed the same month. Now as bloggers receive this blow from the government, netizens expressed their outrage. There have been numerous human chains and press briefings in different parts of Bangladesh to protest against the detainment of the bloggers.

Monu Awal writes in Somewherein:

ব্লগারদের তথা মুক্তচিন্তার কর্মীদের উপর চলছিল হামলা, মামলা, সর্বশেষ যুক্ত হলো গ্রেফতার। মৌলবাদীদের শারীরিক আক্রমণের পাশাপাশি এখন শুরু হয়েছে রাষ্ট্র এবং সরকারের আক্রমণ। [...] ব্লগার এবং অনলাইন লেখকদের বাকরুদ্ধ করে ফেলার চক্রান্ত শুরু হয়েছে।

So far the bloggers and free thinkers were being attacked and sued, the latest onslaught against them is arrest. The attacks by the fundamentalists are being supplemented by the government crackdown. [..] This is a conspiracy to muzzle online writers.

The way the bloggers were produced before the media was also questioned. Award winning blogger Ali Mahmed (BOBS Best blog Bengali, 2010) writes in Facebook:

আমি যখন খবরটা শুনি, বিশ্বাস করতে পারিনি। কিন্তু যখন ছবিটা দেখলাম তখন আমার সমস্ত ভুবন এলোমেলো হয়ে গেল। তিনজন ব্লগারকে যেভাবে দাঁড় করিয়ে ছবি তোলা হয়েছে, মনে হচ্ছে এরা একেকজন খুনি, ধর্ষক।

When I first heard I could not believe. But when I saw the picture the world rattled in front of my eyes. The way these three bloggers are lined up in front of police and photographed, it seems they are murderers, rapists.

The three alleged anti-Islamic bloggers stand with computers and police in the capital. Image by Rehman Asad. Copyright Demotix (2/4/2013)

The three alleged anti-Islamic bloggers stand with computers and police in the capital. Image by Rehman Asad. Copyright Demotix (2/4/2013)

One of the nominees at the BOBS 2013 award Nijhoom Majumder opines about the way the bloggers were photographed with their laptop/PCs:

[...] একজন ব্লগার হিসেবে আমি সিম্পলী লজ্জায় মাথা নিচু করে ফেলেছি এই ছবি দেখে।

As a blogger, my head went down in shame after seeing the picture.

Diaspora blogger Himu is worried about the security of these bloggers as they have been exposed by the media:

যে তিনজন ব্লগারকে আটক করেছেন, তাদের মুক্তি চাই না। তাদের আপনারা আটকে রাখুন। কারণ আপনারা তাদের নামধামছবি সব প্রকাশ করে দিয়েছেন। মুক্ত বাংলাদেশে এখন তাদের পিছু নেবে আততায়ীরা, যারা আপনাদের কল্যাণই এদের চিনে নিয়েছে।

I don't want the detained bloggers to be released. Please keep them detained. Because you have disclosed their identity and pictures. They will be chased by fundamentalist assassins, who have found them thanks to you.

The government has endorsed the #Shahbag protests from the beginning which focused on the maximum punishment for the war criminals. So blogger Sajal cannot fathom why the government is arresting the bloggers associated with #Shahbag movement:

যেটা বুঝা দুস্কর, মুক্তিযুদ্ধের নেতৃত্ব দেয়া দল আওয়ামী লীগ কেন এই মুক্তিযুদ্ধের চেতনাবিরোধী ধর্মীয় মৌলবাদীদের সাথে তাল মিলিয়ে নাস্তিক/মুক্তমনা ব্লগারদের উপর এই দমন নিপীড়ন শুরু করেছে!

This is hard to understand why Awami League, the party led the liberation war, has started oppression against the atheist/free-thinker bloggers in line with the anti-liberation forces – the fundamentalist groups.

Blogger Tutul thinks that they are being arrested because they are very active in the #Shahbag movement:

সবসময় তাদের উপস্থিতি ছিল শাহবাগে… সেটাই কি কাল হলো তাদের জন্য? এইসব মিথ্যাচার করে কি ব্লগারদের থামানো যাবে? আমরা কি থেমে যাবো? লেজ ঘুটিয়ে ঘরে বসে থাকবো?

They were in #Shahbag the whole time.. was this their crime? Can bloggers be stopped with all these lies? Should we stop? Sit inside our home and do nothing?

The politics of vote

In January 2014 the Bangladesh parliamentary election will take place. Many think that the current move by the ruling Awami League is a strategy to keep the Islamist parties as allies. So the arrest of bloggers for ‘hurtung religious sentiments’ was done to appease the Islamists and exploit their vote bank. But Himu thinks that they will not get the votes of the Islamists:

ভোটের জন্য? মোল্লাদের ভোট আপনারা পাবেন না। তাদের জুতা জিহ্বা দিয়ে চেটে সাফ করলেও পাবেন না। বরং যারা জামাতশিবিরের রাজনীতির মোকাবেলা করার জন্য আপনাদের ভোট দিয়ে ক্ষমতায় এনেছে, তাদের ভোট হারানো শুরু করবেন।

For vote? You will not get the votes of the Islamists. You won't even if you lick their boots. Rather you will lose vote of your followers who voted for you last time to tackle religious politics.

Many think that if the 13-point demand of Hefazot Bangladesh is met somehow then Bangladesh will become a fundamentalist country. Abidul Islam writes at Unmochon blog that the arrest of the bloggers followed after an agreement between the government and the Islamists was reached:

[...] আরেকটি হলো হেফাজতে ইসলামের সাথে এক প্রকার সমঝোতায় উপনীত হয়ে নিজেদের পরম ‘ইসলামবন্ধু’ রাজনৈতিক দল হিসেবে প্রমাণ করে আগামী নির্বাচনী বৈতরণী পার হওয়া।

Another way is that to cross the hurdle of the next election by posing themselves as an “Islam friendly’ political party with the help of an agreement between Hefazot and the government.

On April 3 the state-minister for law has notified that an amendment to the existing law is in effect where those who insult religion can be sentenced to the maximum punishment – capital punishment, which has irked many progressives. At present the punishment include maximum two years of imprisonment and/or 10 million BD Taka.

Thumbnail picture courtesy Muzzle Me Not Facebook Community.
This post is part of our Special Coverage Bangladesh's #Shahbag Protests

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