Dhaka: An atheist blogger from Bangladesh was arrested because he ‘hurt religious feeling by mocking Prophet Mohammed and made bad comments against Islam.’ 25-year-old blogger Asaduzzaman Noor, known as Asad Noor on social networks, is facing up to 14 years in prison.
‘The charge against him is that he hurt religious feeling[s] by mocking Prophet Mohammed and made bad comments against Islam, the prophet and the Koran on Facebook and YouTube,’ inspector Mohammad Shahidullah said. He also said that hundreds of Muslims staged demonstrations against Noor in 2017 in the southern coastal town of Amtali after the head of an Islamic seminary filed a case against him, according to local news reports. Noor was charged under Bangladesh's strict internet laws and could face up to 14 years in jail if found guilty.
Although Internet access in Bangladesh is not restricted by a national level filtering regime, the state has intervened to block Web sites for hosting anti-Islamic content and content deemed subversive. Internet content is regulated by existing legal frameworks that restrict material deemed defamatory or offensive, as well as content that might challenge law and order.
In early April 2013, the police began arresting bloggers for hurting religious sentiments. Four bloggers — Subrata Adhikary Shuvo, Russell Parvez, Mashiur Rahman Biplob and Asif Mohiuddin — were arrested within days of one another. The blog, Amar Blog, was also taken down. A religious group called Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh called for the hanging of the bloggers. AsiMohiuddin's blog was shut down by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, and he was jailed for posting "offensive comments about Islam and Mohammed." The secular government arrested several other bloggers and blocked about a dozen websites and blogs, as well as giving police protection to some bloggers.
There have been multiple attacks and murders of atheist bloggers, academics and authors by Islamist militants since 2013, with the government accused of being unable or unwilling to provide protection – and in some cases even persecuting atheists and imprisoning them. Following the attacks, the government launched a crackdown on extremist groups. In July last year however militants stormed a Dhaka cafe and massacred 22 hostages, including 18 foreigners, in an assault claimed by the Islamic State group. Security forces have since killed more than 70 alleged militants.
Bangladesh is on a dangerous course as it is the case in several other countries where there are increasing attacks on free speech. Bloggers in Bangladesh face a twofold blow: on the one hand there is a draconian Internet law that can be used by the authorities against them at any time, and on the other hand there are the ominous threats from extremist groups that monitor the blogs and social media networks.
Photo Credits: Asad Noor's Facebook Profile