RAN 16/13 5 April 2013
PEN International is seriously concerned by the recent arrests of four Bangladeshi bloggers in connection with Internet posts which allegedly hurt religious sentiments. The arrests follow an escalation of attacks against writers since the beginning of the year. PEN is alarmed that writers continue to be targeted with apparent impunity in Bangladesh, and it reminds the authorities of their obligations to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a signatory.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) gives the following information:
‘Police on Wednesday [4 April 2013] arrested Asif Mohiuddin, a popular blogger who calls himself an atheist and who had often criticized Islamic fundamentalism and written about politicians and current events on his blog and Facebook page. Last week, Mohiuddin had told Agence France-Presse that he had been interrogated by detectives about his writings and that 120 of his blog posts were deleted. His blog had been one of the most visited websites in the country before it was removed at the order of Bangladesh's telecommunications regulator, according to AFP. Mohiuddin is being held in police custody for three days for further investigation, news reports said.
On Monday [1 April 2013], police arrested bloggers Subrata Adhikari Shuvo, Mashiur Rahman Biplob, and Rasel Parvez... The bloggers appeared in court on Tuesday for a preliminary hearing, where a judge denied them bail and placed them in police custody for one week for further investigation…The three could face up to 10 years in jail if convicted under the country's cyber laws, which outlaw "defaming" a religion, police said... Their blogs were shut down following their arrests…
The three bloggers had often criticized politicians and the press for being "biased toward Islamist views and ideologies in a country that is constitutionally supposed to be secular," according to news reports. The reports said the bloggers arrested on Monday had frequently used Amar Blog, an online blog publishing site that has since been shut down.
One of the bloggers, Shuvo, who belongs to Bangladesh's Hindu minority, had criticized the media in his posts in connection to what he believed was their failure to fight discrimination in recent attacks on Buddhists and Hindus in the country, according to reports. Bangladesh is 90 percent Muslim, and Islam is its official state religion.
Molla Nazrul Islam, deputy commissioner of the Dhaka police, told the local press that Shuvo, Biplob, and Parvez had "hurt the religious feelings of the people by writing against different religions and their prophets and founders including the Prophet Muhammad."
Muhiuddin Khan, Bangladesh's home minister, said at least three of the bloggers were among 84 bloggers identified by an Islamist group as atheists in a list given to a government panel probing alleged blasphemy against Islam on the Internet, according to reports. In recent years, bloggers have increasingly criticized what they see as heightened religious fundamentalism, leading to tension between the online journalists and Islamist fundamentalists.
The arrests took place amid a wider government crackdown on the Internet following mass demonstrations, called the "Shahbagh movement," in which protesters called for the death penalty for leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party on trial for war crimes during the 1971 war of independence. Many bloggers have encouraged and publicized the protests, which have been attended by hundreds of thousands of people.
The government has also blocked about a dozen websites and blogs since last week, reports said. Authorities set up a panel, which included intelligence chiefs, to identify potential blasphemy on social media sites. Last week, the country's telecommunications regulator ordered two sites to remove hundreds of posts by seven bloggers whose writings it said offended Muslims…’
There has been an escalation in attacks against bloggers in Bangladesh since the beginning of the year. On 15 February 2013, Ahmed Rajib Haider, prominent blogger critical of Islamic fundamentalism, was murdered by assailants outside his home in Dhaka. In January, Asif Mohiuddin was stabbed and seriously injured by three men while leaving his office. It is feared both men may have been targeted for their critical online comments.
For further background see the following:
Global voices: http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2013/04/03/netizen-report-bloggers-under-threat-bangladesh/
Please send appeals:
• Expressing serious concern at the crackdown on bloggers and journalists in Bangladesh, who are targeted with apparent impunity solely for their critical writings;
• Reminding the authorities of their obligations to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a signatory.
Send appeals to:
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed
Prime Minister's Office
Old Sangsad Bhaban
Fax: +880-2-8113-244; +880-2-8111-015
If possible please send appeals via the diplomatic representative for Bangladesh in your country.
**Please contact the PEN WiPC office in London if sending appeals after 30 April 2013**
For further details contact Cathy McCann, 50/51 Brownlow House, High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, United Kingdom, Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: + (0) 20 7405 0339. Email: Cathy.McCann@pen-international.org