Reporters Without Borders condemns the baseless judicial proceedings brought against the detained blogger Asif Mohiuddin, who could be tried and convicted on a charge of blasphemy and “hurting religious sentiments” at his next hearing, scheduled for 15 April.
“Keeping Mohiuddin in detention is unacceptable, especially as his family says his health has deteriorated,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The authorities must stop trying to appease the extremists and must end this persecution of ‘secularist’ bloggers.
“We hail Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s decision on 8 April to reject a request by Islamist groups to pass a new law punishing blasphemy, but much remains to be done to defuse the climate of intolerance and violence that is targeting news providers.”
Bangladesh’s criminal code already punishes blasphemy, by making it illegal to offend religious feelings and there are laws that allow the authorities to seize and ban any publication with blasphemous content. Anyone hurting religious sentiments “deliberately” or with “malicious intent” can be jailed under Section 295A of the criminal code, which dates back to 1860.
Mohiuddin was summoned before the Detective Branch in Dhaka on 3 April and has been held ever since in response to a call from Hifazat-e-Islam, a group demanding the punishment of all secularist bloggers who “insult Islam and its Prophet Mohamed.”
Although a judge initially ordered a three-day custody period, Mohiuddin remained in detention after a request by his lawyer, Alauddin Molla, for his release on bail was rejected. Mohiuddin’s next opportunity for release is the hearing scheduled for 15 April.
He has been charged under article 54 of the 1898 Criminal Procedure Code, which carries a possible 10-year jail sentence and fine of up to 10 million takas (100,000 euros).
As well as failing to release him, the Detective Brach refused to comply with a judge’s order on 4 April to hospitalize him. A request by the head of the National Commission for Human Rights to take him to Central Jail Hospital was also reportedly refused on 10 April.
The police first arrested Mohiuddin on 1 October 2011, releasing him after 18 hours after they made him promise to put a stop to his blogging.
Four people were meanwhile arrested on 1 April on suspicion of trying to murder Mohiuddin on 14 January, when he was stabbed on a Dhaka street. They have reportedly confessed to carrying out a religiously-motivated attack.
Attention began to focus on bloggers during demonstrations by anti-Islamist activists demanding the death penalty for those convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1971 independence war. Reported by activists online, the protests began when an International Crimes Tribunal sentenced Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Mollah to life imprisonment on 5 February.
Hifazat-e-Islam, an extremist group based in the southeastern city of Chittagong, began to react a few days later, branding the bloggers covering or participating in the protests as “atheists” and “enemies of Islam.” They urged the authorities to stop the demonstrations and to punish ten bloggers, including Mohiuddin.
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