The statue of Greek goddess Themis, a global symbol of justice and fairness, in front of the Bangladesh Supreme Court on May 1. The statue was removed on May 26 amid pressure from hard-line Islamists who said it was un-Islamic. (ucanews.com photo)
Bangladesh authorities have removed the statue of Greek goddess Themis, a symbol of justice and fairness, from the Supreme Court premises apparently to appease radical Islamists, sparking dismay among liberals, secularists and church people.
Attorney general Mahbubey Alam said Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha ordered the removal of the statue and asked it to be placed somewhere else in the compound, local media reported.
Hard-line Islamists objected to the statue saying it was "un-Islamic" and unbefitting of a Muslim nation like Bangladesh. They demanded it be removed or they would hold more protests.
"Hefazat-e-Islam" (Protectors of Islam), an umbrella organization of radicals, first protested against the statue in February. Islami Andolon, another Islamist party, staged a second rally in Dhaka in April where its leaders vowed to "spill blood" if the statue was not removed.
The statue was taken down in the early hours of May 26 under the supervision of its sculptor Mrinal Hoque only six months after it was erected, while hundreds of liberals and secularists protested outside the court.
Bishop Bejoy D'Cruze of Sylhet, chairman of the Catholic bishops' Commission for Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue, termed the removal of the statue "saddening and unacceptable."
"The statue was a symbol of justice placed in front of the court. It has nothing to do with religion as it was not set up in front of a worship place like a mosque. By giving in to extremist pressure, the government has set a bad example. Now, the radicals might call for the removal of statues from Hindu temples, churches and pagodas," he said.
"Seculars, liberals and religious minorities supported the Awami League hoping that it would fight extremism and stand up for secularism, tolerance and harmony but it is increasingly drawing Islamists near, presumably to win votes in the election," Bishop D'Cruze added.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who leads the government of the so-called secular Awami League party also expressed her dislike of the statue. "I don't like it myself. It's called a Greek statue but how did a Greek statue get here?" she said during a meeting with Islamist leaders last month.
Hard-line Islamists hold a massive rally in Dhaka on April 21 to demand the removal of the statue of Greek goddess Themis, a global symbol of justice and fairness, which said was 'un-Islamic'. (Photo by Piyas Biswas)
Shahriar Kabir, a prominent secularist writer, journalist and filmmaker said, "The radicals don't know the difference between a statue and an idol but the government caved to their pressure instead of convincing them."
"This is a slap in the face for progressive and liberal values and it's an unlawful interference in the affairs of the judiciary which remain the last resort for those seeking justice," said Kabir.
"If this trend of appeasing radicals continues, it won't take long for Bangladesh to become like another Pakistan or Afghanistan," he warned.
Hefazat-e-Islam leaders lauded the moves and the removal of the statue.
"The government is doing what the majority of the people want. Worshiping idols is not part of our culture and the majority of Muslims are against it. Same goes for recognizing madrasa degrees and amending the school syllabus. The government has just fulfilled the expectations of the people," said Mufti Faizullah, joint secretary of Hefazat-e-Islam.
Analysts see the move as the further wooing of Islamists and the conservative electorate ahead of a national election to be held late 2018 or early 2019.
It is also seen as a way to avoid Islamist violence. On May 5, 2013, Hefazat-e-Islam held a massive rally in Dhaka demanding capitulation to a 13-point plan that included the implementation of a blasphemy law, executing atheist bloggers and removal of "all idols" from the country, leading to clashes with police that left dozens killed.
In January, the government angered liberals and intellectuals when it emerged that articles authored by non-Muslim and secular writers were removed from school textbooks and replaced with articles by Muslim writers apparently after pressure from Hefazat-e-Islam.
In April, the government again drew flak from secularists for recognizing degrees from Islamic madrasas as post-graduate university degrees, after failed attempts to control and modernize their curriculum.