Reporters Without Borders condemns the hounding of the blogger Asif Mohiuddin, who was summoned and questioned by the police three days ago, two days after the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) blocked access to his blog (http://www.somewhereinblog.net/blog/realAsifM).
The government seems to have yielded to pressure from Islamists amid growing political tension.
With Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s approval, a committee was formed two weeks ago with the job of identifying and prosecuting bloggers who allegedly blasphemed in their coverage of the trials of former political leaders accused of genocide during the 1971 independence war.
“Ever since the start of the trials, many of the bloggers covering the hearings, including Mohiuddin, have been the victims of acts of intimidation and physical and verbal violence that have been attributed to both Islamist groups and the authorities,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“The growing violence against bloggers, and against journalists covering the protests linked to the trials, requires an immediate reaction from the authorities and the leaders of the political parties involved, who are also responsible for the escalation in violence.
“We firmly condemn the role played by the authorities in recent weeks. They have not done enough to protect freedom of expression or stop the calls for hate and violence that have proliferated in Bangladesh, especially online. Instead, they recently seem to have aligned themselves with extremist religious positions.
“By creating a committee tasked with identifying bloggers suspected of blasphemy, the government is exacerbating tension and putting pressure on independent commentators to censor themselves. And those responsible for the blogs and websites blocked by the BTRC are being turned into targets for religious extremists.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “We call for the immediate end to the creation of a committee that is supposed to identify ‘blasphemous’ content in blogs critical of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, and we call for the immediate end to the BTRC’s censorship.”
When Mohiuddin was summoned by the Dhaka police detective branch on 23 March, he was questioned not only about his blog but also about fellow blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider’s murder, which is the subject of a police investigation. Rajib was hacked to death in Dhaka on 15 February.
Mohiuddin’s blog, which criticizes religious fundamentalism and terrorism, was blocked on 21 March by “Somewhere in Blog,” the platform that hosts, it, on the BTRC’s instructions.
“We received an official email from the BTRC,” the platform’s founder, Syeda Gulshan Ferdous Jana, said. “This is the first time in the over seven years of somewhereinblog.net that authorities have issued written instructions to discipline bloggers.”
Mohiuddin told Reporters Without Borders that the police and intelligence agencies are hounding him that he could now also be the subject of an investigation by the new anti-blasphemy committee.
Created on 13 March under the direct control of the prime minister’s office, this nine-member committee is supposed to identify and take measures against bloggers and Facebook users who post comment’s critical of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.
Mainuddin Khandakar, a senior official in the home ministry (interior ministry), has been appointed to head the committee. The prime minister’s press secretary, Abul Kalam Azad, said the home ministry would take “the necessary action on the basis of the recommendations of the committee.”
The committee’s other members are to consist of representatives of the prime minister’s office, BTRC, law and judicial department, information ministry, religious affairs ministry, intelligence agencies, armed forces and police special branch.
Its creation has come at a time of pressure from Islamist parties calling for punitive measures against bloggers and online media because of the allegedly blasphemous coverage of the trials of former leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party.
During February’s “Shahbagh Movement” demonstrations, in which anti-Islamist bloggers took part, there were calls for the banning of Jamaat-e-Islami and for death sentences for the leading defendants in the trials.
Radical Muslims responded by organizing their own demonstrations in many towns and villages, inciting hatred against the secularist bloggers and brandishing photos of several of them, including Mohiuddin. Many cases of violence against journalists were reported during their demonstrations.
Islamists attacked Mohiuddin in Dhaka on 14 January, stabbing him several times.
Photo : MUNIR UZ ZAMAN / AFP