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Hate crime riot leaves four dead in Bangladesh

Muslim mob fired on by police after protest over Hindu man accused of insulting Prophet Muhammad on Facebook

Hate crime riot leaves four dead in Bangladesh

Islamist activists hold placards as they take part in a protest in Dhaka on Oct. 21, a day after deadly clashes when police shot at Bangladeshi Muslims protesting Facebook messages that allegedly defamed the Prophet Muhammad. (AFP photo)

At least four people were killed and more than 100 injured in a deadly riot over a Facebook messenger conversation allegedly defaming Islam in Bangladesh.

An angry Muslim mob, apparently instigated by local Islamic hardliners, marched for punishment including execution of a Hindu man they accused of committing a hate crime against the Prophet Muhammad in the Borhanuddin area of Bhola district.

Biplob Chandra Shuvo, a Hindu, filed a general diary with police on Oct. 19 that his Facebook account had been hacked and exploited for spreading derogatory remarks against Islam.

Police detained Biplob for questioning and arrested two Muslim men accusing of hacking his Facebook account, allegedly for extortion.       

The mob, using the banner of Touhidi Janata (Supporters of Islamic Uprising), turned violent as protesters defied a police ban against mass gatherings over the issue and allegedly attacked a Hindu temple and police on Oct. 20.

Police said some Islamic hardliners incited violence despite repeated requests to stay calm while police were probing the complaint of hate speech.

“We held several talks with local clerics and villagers, and we explained to them what happened and that police were looking into it seriously. However, a mob was formed that attacked police with sticks and bricks, and police fired in self-defense,” Jafar Iqbal, a sub-inspector of Borhanuddin police station, told ucanews.

The government deployed Border Guards Bangladesh soldiers after the violence and the situation has returned to normal, the officer added.

Mithun Hossain, a local journalist, said the situation was calm but tensions remained in the area.

“Touhidi Janata held a press conference to condemn police firing and accused police of diverting the issue into a different direction. Its leader said a new agitation program will be announced soon,” Hossain told ucanews.

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Oblate Bishop Bejoy D’Cruze of Sylhet expressed frustration over the violence.

“It is unacceptable in the modern world that a rumor coming from Facebook could cause such mayhem. Police were alert and took actions, but I think some ill-motivated Muslims have tried to exploit the situation by attacking the minority community and destroying harmony,” Bishop D’Cruze, chairman of the Catholic bishops’ Commission for Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue, told ucanews.

“The violent incident shows that the government needs to stay more alert about some people who want to spread hatred and destroy peace in society and the country.”

In a televised statement on Oct. 20, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked the nation to be patient in the wake of violence in Bhola.

“I request people to be patient because a vested quarter has tried to create anarchy and destabilize the country by spreading rumors on Facebook. Police have arrested those responsible and they will find out the truth,” Hasina said. 

Long known for moderate Islam, religious pluralism and harmony, Muslim-majority Bangladesh has had a sharp rise in Islamic militancy including attacks on minority groups in recent times, including several similar cases of religiously motivated violence using social media.

In 2012, religious fanatics destroyed 19 Buddhist temples and about 100 Buddhist houses in Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong over an anti-Islam image on Facebook allegedly posted by a Buddhist. Later local media found the account was hacked and the image was doctored.

In 2016, Islamic zealots attacked and vandalized 17 Hindu temples, 300 houses and injured about 100 Hindus in the Nasirnagar area of Brahmanbaria district over a derogatory Facebook post allegedly made by a Hindu fisherman.

The accused man, Rasraj Das, was later cleared by police after intelligence officers found he was not responsible for posting a derogatory image.

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