Police officials pose with three bloggers, centre, during a press conference in Dhaka yesterday.
Bangladesh police yesterday arrested three atheist bloggers for allegedly defaming Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, 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 Islamists 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 Muhammad,” 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 Islamists who opposed the country’s independence from Pakistan during the 1971
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.
Islamists 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
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 Islamist 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 Islamists 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”.
50 injured after Chittagong-bound train derails
At least 50 passengers were injured in eastern Bangladesh when a train derailed after opposition activists removed tracks to enforce a nationwide strike yesterday demanding the government’s resignation.
District police chief Mahbubur Rahman said seven coaches of the train bound for the port city of Chittagong came off the rails near Comilla town, some 95km from the capital Dhaka.
Railway services between the capital and port were suspended for more than 10 hours, he said.
Most businesses and schools remained closed and traffic in Dhaka was thin during the daylong strike called by an opposition alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
The strikers also detonated homemade bombs, set vehicles on fire, blockaded highways and burnt tyres in other places, including the capital.
The 18-party opposition alliance called the strike to demand the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
They are also protesting the sentencing of Islamist political leader Delawar Hossai Sayedee from the Jamaat-e-Islami party to death for war crimes during the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.
Activists of Jamaat-e-Islami, a key part of the opposition alliance, clashed with police in the northern district of Dianjpur. At least 20 people, including police, were injured.
Officers fired teargas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters gathered at Chirirbandar, some 260km north-west Dhaka, after the demonstrators attacked the police, said policeman Tariqul Islam.