New York, April 4, 2013--The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the recent arrests of four Bangladeshi bloggers in Dhaka in connection with their Internet posts that police said hurt the religious beliefs of people.
"Targeting bloggers who may not agree with the religious sensibilities of the majority is cause for deep concern," said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz. "Such a crackdown on the Internet creates a climate of fear and hinders free expression, which threatens democracy."
Police on Wednesday arrested Asif Mohiuddin, a popular blogger who calls himself an atheist and who had often criticized Islamic fundamentalism and written about politicians and current events on his blog and Facebook page. Last week, Mohiuddin had told Agence France-Presse that he had been interrogated by detectives about his writings and that 120 of his blog posts were deleted. His blog had been one of the most visited websites in the country before it was removed at the order of Bangladesh's telecommunications regulator, according to AFP. Mohiuddin is being held in police custody for three days for further investigation, news reports said.
On Monday, police arrested bloggers Subrata Adhikari Shuvo, Mashiur Rahman Biplob, and Rasel Parvez, news reports said. The bloggers appeared in court on Tuesday for a preliminary hearing, where a judge denied them bail and placed them in police custody for one week for further investigation, the reports said. The three could face up to 10 years in jail if convicted under the country's cyber laws, which outlaw "defaming" a religion, police said, according to news reports. Their blogs were shut down following their arrests, reports said.
The three bloggers had often criticized politicians and the press for being "biased toward Islamist views and ideologies in a country that is constitutionally supposed to be secular," according to news reports. The reports said the bloggers arrested on Monday had frequently used Amar Blog, an online blog publishing site that has since been shut down.
One of the bloggers, Shuvo, who belongs to Bangladesh's Hindu minority, had criticized the media in his posts in connection to what he believed was their failure to fight discrimination in recent attacks on Buddhists and Hindus in the country, according to reports. Bangladesh is 90 percent Muslim, and Islam is its official state religion.
Molla Nazrul Islam, deputy commissioner of the Dhaka police, told the local press that Shuvo, Biplob, and Parvez had "hurt the religious feelings of the people by writing against different religions and their prophets and founders including the Prophet Muhammad."
Muhiuddin Khan, Bangladesh's home minister, said at least three of the bloggers were among 84 bloggers identified by an Islamist group as atheists in a list given to a government panel probing alleged blasphemy against Islam on the Internet, according to reports. In recent years, bloggers have increasingly criticized what they see as heightened religious fundamentalism, leading to tension between the online journalists and Islamist fundamentalists.
The arrests took place amid a wider government crackdown on the Internet following mass demonstrations, called the "Shahbagh movement," in which protesters called for the death penalty for leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party on trial for war crimes during the 1971 war of independence. Many bloggers have encouraged and publicized the protests, which have been attended by hundreds of thousands of people.
The government has also blocked about a dozen websites and blogs since last week, reports said. Authorities set up a panel, which included intelligence chiefs, to identify potential blasphemy on social media sites. Last week, the country's telecommunications regulator ordered two sites to remove hundreds of posts by seven bloggers whose writings it said offended Muslims, reports said.
The Shahbagh protests have also led to Islamist groups staging their own demonstrations and demanding that the government give the death penalty to bloggers perceived as atheist, reports said. A newly emerged Islamist group, Hefajat-e-Islam, is expected to hold a march in Dhaka on Saturday, and has threatened a shutdown of the city and suicide attacks if the government obstructs its march demanding the death penalty for the alleged atheist bloggers, reports said.
CPJ research shows an escalation in attacks against bloggers in Bangladesh since the beginning of the year. In February, Ahmed Rajib Haider, a prominent blogger critical of Islamic fundamentalism, was hacked to death by assailants outside his home in Dhaka. CPJ is investigating to determine if the murder was related to his critical blog posts. In January, Mohiuddin was brutally stabbed by three men while leaving his office, news reports said.
- For more data and analysis on Bangladesh, visit CPJ's Attacks on the Press.