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November 7, 2018 - Updated on November 12, 2018

RSF demands release of Bangladeshi blogger held on blasphemy charge

Journalists and bloggers who advocate religious tolerance, such as Limon Fakir (left), are hounded by fundamentalist Muslim groups like Islami Andolan Bangladesh, which wants him to be given the death sentence (photo: archives - AFP).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Limon Fakir, a Bangladeshi blogger who has been held without trial for more than a year and a half and whose latest request for release on bail was rejected by the Dhaka high court yesterday.

Limon Fakir has so far spent a total of 567 days in prison for the crime of posting articles and videos on his blog about the Islamic fundamentalism that permeates a sector of Bangladeshi society.

 

His posts prompted a member of Islami Andolan Bangladesh (IAB), a radical Islamist party, to file a complaint with a court in the southern city of Barguna on 9 January 2017, accusing Fakir of “defamatory language against the Prophet.”

 

Arrested on 18 April 2017 and tortured by police for two weeks, Fakir was finally charged under the notorious section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, which is often used to gag bloggers and journalists in Bangladesh. Aged 24 and suffering from several ailments, he is facing a possible 14-year jail sentence in a trial before the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal.

 

“We demand Limon Fakir’s immediate release,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “His arrest, the torture to which he was subjected and his interminable detention are all the more unacceptable because he just tried to inform his fellow citizens about fundamentalism.

 

“The Bangladeshi justice system must respect the principle of secularism, which is enshrined in the country’s constitution, and must therefore keep its distance from any form of political or religious pressure as regards the handling of the case against this blogger.”

 

Political exploitation

 

IAB, the extremist party that filed the complaint against Fakir, claims to have 20 million supporters and, in the run-up to the general elections in December, both of the two main parties, the ruling Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, are trying to woo it.

 

IAB also brought a complaint against Asad Noor, another blogger who wrote about fundamentalist excesses. Noor fled to India and from there had intended to travel to Nepal but was arrested while in transit at Dhaka airport in December 2017


Section 57 of the ICT Act, which criminalize defamation and blasphemy online, is often used by Islamists to harass journalists and bloggers who defend religious tolerance, free-thinking and secularism.


Bangladesh is ranked 146th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.