Calls for blasphemy laws in Bangladesh; government appeases Islamists

April 10, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

The protestsBangladesh, April 08, 2013: Islamists in Bangladesh are calling for the introduction of blasphemy laws amid violent protests against secularist campaigners that have left around 100 people dead. They have threatened to “kill all the infidels”.

The protests erupted in February and have become increasingly volatile. They were sparked by war crimes trials relating to the 1971 War of Independence. The secularist “Shahbag” protesters called for the execution of eleven Islamist leaders charged with offences. When one of them was sentenced to death, Islamists started rioting.

They have accused the secularists of being “anti-Islamic” and demanded action against those deemed to have insulted Islam.

As the violence has intensified, minority communities have been attacked and their places of worship burnt down or vandalised. A website ran by Jama’at-e-Islami (JI), the largest Islamist political party in Bangladesh, published the threat:

We will kill all the Malauns (infidels) and Bangladesh will be ‘Banglastan’ like Pakistan.

On 29 March, tens of thousands of Islamists rallied in the streets of the capital Dhaka, calling for blasphemy laws. Members of one group, Islami Andolan Bangladesh, demanded the arrest of “atheist bloggers” and the passing of laws to punish those who “insulted Islam in parliament”. They have threatened to “lay siege” to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on 25 April if their demands are not met.

Bloggers, journalists and members of the public have been beaten and hacked to death.

APPEASING ISLAMISTS

The Bangladeshi government has been accused of appeasing the Islamists in the way that it has responded to the violence.

Law minister Shafique Ahmad announced on 2 April that the government was toughening the penalties for “hurting the people’s religious sentiments”. There is currently no blasphemy law in Bangladesh, but the 2006 Right to Information Act prescribes ten years’ imprisonment for hurting people’s religious sentiments using the internet, while the Penal Code makes defaming religion and hurting people’s religious sentiments crimes punishable by two years in jail.

The government has also constituted a cyber crime tribunal to identify websites that exploit or defame Islam. Four people have subsequently been arrested.

Islamists in Bangladesh have been lobbying for the introduction of blasphemy laws for some time. A recent constitutional amendment affirmed that although Islam has the status of a state religion, the country functions as a secular state.

Christians comprise just 0.6% of the population and are extremely vulnerable in the current environment.

Their counterparts in Pakistan suffer grievously under that nation’s blasphemy laws, which prescribe the death penalty for defiling the name of Muhammad.

– barnabas team

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