RSF also urges the authorities to provide protection for the young blogger, who is better known on social networks by the blog name of Asad Noor.
Arrested on 25 December and accused of “mocking the Prophet Mohammed and making negative comments about Islam, the Prophet and the Quran on Facebook and YouTube,” Noor is facing up to 14 years in jail under article 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT Act), which penalizes those who “hurt religious feeling.”
“We call for the charges against Asad Noor to be dismissed because his only crime has been to express secular opinions,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The legal article under which he is accused has for too long been used by extremist religious groups to gag all independent voices. And, in view of the calls for his death, the authorities must provide him with specific protective measures.”
Hounded by radical Islamist groups and fearing for his life, Noor has been living in hiding in Bangladesh and India for the past year. A religious leader filed a complaint on 11 January 2017 accusing him of violating article 57 of the ICT Act.
Several Bangladeshi Islamist groups, including the biggest one, Hefazat-e-Islam, have said chaos will engulf Bangladesh if Noor is not sentenced to death. When his Indian visa expired, Noor flew to Dhaka on 25 December with a view to continuing to Nepal to seek refuge there, but border police arrested him at the airport and he has been held ever since.
After the ICT law was amended in 2013, the police began arresting citizen-journalists for hurting religious feeling. Four bloggers were arrested in the space of four days on the grounds that they had blasphemed in comments posted online. At the same time, at least 30 journalists and bloggers were attacked for criticizing Islamic fundamentalism.
Following calls for their deaths by extremist groups, a total of eight blogger and journalists were killed from February 2015 to April 2016. They include Niloy Neel, who was hacked to death in his Dhaka home in August 2015. In most of these cases, no one was ever convicted.
Bangladesh is ranked 146th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.