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'Don't cross the line,' Bangladesh police tell secular bloggers

Critics say comments will embolden extremists after blogger killings

'Don't cross the line,' Bangladesh police tell secular bloggers

Activists demand justice after US-based Bangladeshi writer and blogger Avijit Roy was killed in Dhaka in February. Four atheist bloggers have been killed this year in Bangladesh. (Photo by Stephan Uttom)

Comments by a top police official asking bloggers not to “cross the line” while writing about religion will only embolden fundamentalists to commit atrocities against those who hold different views, activists say.

“Hurting religious sentiments is a crime according to our law, and for hurting someone's religious sentiment, the person will be punished by up to 14 years in jail,” police Inspector General AKM Shahidul Hoque told reporters in Dhaka Aug. 9.

“Those who are free thinkers and writers, I request them, please make sure that they don’t cross the line. Anything that may hurt anyone’s religious sentiments or beliefs should not be written,” he said.

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His comments were reiterated by Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan on Aug. 11, who said his government would take action against those who defame religion in blogs and on social media.

Their comments came following the murder of Niladri Chatterjee, 40, who was hacked to death in his home in Dhaka on Aug. 7. Chatterjee was the fourth atheist blogger killed this year in Bangladesh, allegedly by Islamic militants. Extremist groups listed all four victims among the 84 bloggers they described as anti-Islamic and blasphemous.

The minister and police chief's remarks are “saddening and confusing,” said Rana Dasgupta, a Hindu lawyer and secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, a national forum of religious minorities.

“Their remarks are encouraging for killers and are against our constitutional rights of freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” said Dasgupta.

“Bloggers are being killed not for hurting religious sentiments, but for their stance against religious fundamentalism. Sadly, the government is indirectly encouraging religious fanatics instead of cracking down of them,” he added.

Similarly, Rosaline Costa, coordinator of the Dhaka-based Hotline Human Rights Trust, pointed out that the government's stance is a gross violation of a person's constitutional rights.

“Freedom is a gift from God and no one can take it away. Religion is not a person or material, so its sentiments can't get hurt. Hence hurting religious sentiment is nonsense,” said the Catholic human rights activist.

“If the government muzzles freedom of speech, it is simply playing the tune for religious extremists and those who use religion for material gains,” she added.

Berlin-based atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin, writing on Facebook, said that the government's only action after the killings was to threaten to "punish the freethinker bloggers with 14 years' imprisonment.” Mohiuddin narrowly escaped death after being stabbed by Islamic militants in Dhaka in 2013.

Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country and secularism remains one if its founding principles. However, in recent years there has been a rise in Islamic fundamentalists targeting religious minorities and those who do not subscribe to their views.

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