Bangladesh rejects call for blasphemy law, but atheist bloggers still detained
Padraig Reidy: Bangladesh rejects call for blasphemy law, but atheist bloggers still detained
08 Apr 13

Four Bangladeshi bloggers are being held on suspicion of “harming religious sentiment” amid protests calling for blasphemy to be made a capital crime.

On 31 March, hardline Islamists submitted a list of 84 “atheist” bloggers to authorities, demanding their arrest. Rasel Parvez, Mashiur Rahman Biplob and Subrata Adhikari Shuvo, were arrested on 1 April, and had laptops and other devices confiscated. Asif Mohiuddin was arrested days later.

The arrests take part against the backdrop of the Shahbag protests. The protests, which began as demands for the death penalty for figures convicted of war crimes during the 1971 war that led to independence from Pakistan — when many Islamist groups sided with Pakistan — have broadened to general demonstrations against the radical Jamaat-e-Islami and other “extremist” groups.

The secular movement has drawn a strong response from hardliners, who have called for a blasphemy law, along the way smearing activists as defamers of the prophet Muhammad.

The Islamist group Hefajat-e-Islam has said the capital Dhaka will face a “siege” unless the government meets its demand to introduce the death penalty for blasphemy.

However, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina has rejected calls for a blasphemy law, telling the BBC that “existing laws are enough”.

She went on to say that while Bangladesh is a “secular democracy”, where everyone “has the right to practice their religion freely”, it was “not fair to hurt anybody’s religious feeling”, and that the government “try to protect every religious sentiment.”

By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.