On March 22, a high school teacher in Bangladesh was arrested by authorities for allegedly hurting religious sentiment. Hriday Chandra Mondal, a teacher at the Binodpur Ram Kumar High School in Munshiganj district, was arrested for telling students that "religion is a matter of faith."
Mondal followed up on his statement by comparing religion to science. "Science looks at the evidence," he said.
Amnesty International managed to access an audio recording of Mondal explaining religion and science. "There is no evidence in religion. Religion, in the end, says God will take care of everything. Religion offers memorized words whereas science shows evidence," Mondal said in the recording.
According to All India Radio News, Mondal's discussion was secretly recorded and was used to file a police complaint on March 20.
Two days later, Mondal was arrested and was charged with two counts of blasphemy-related offenses under Bangladesh's draconian blasphemy law. He was charged with violating offenses under sections 295 and 295A under Penal Code 1860.
Mondal's earlier attempts for bail petition were rejected twice. Several lawyers and other local legal experts questioned the court's denial of Mondal's bail. According to the lawyers sympathetic to the teacher, the blasphemy law can only continue with government approval.
Legal experts in Bangladesh warned the court that detaining Mondal "without regard for the legal process" can lead to severe implications for the country's judicial process.
Several organizations also came to Mondal's defense. The Dhaka University Teachers Association (DTU), several student organizations, University Teacher's Network (UTN), and several human rights organizations called for Mondal's immediate release.
Dipu Moni, Bangladesh's Education Minister, said Mondal's arrest is unfortunate and calls for further investigation.
Smriti Singh, Deputy Regional Director for South Asia at Amnesty International, said, "Mondal is detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and must be released immediately and unconditionally."
Singh also called Mondal's detention a shameful sign of the disturbing trend in Bangladesh. "Detaining a teacher for simply discussing ideas in class sets a dangerous precedent where even challenging students to think critically can now land someone in jail," Singh added.
Bangladesh's track record of extreme blasphemy-related arrests, violence, and event death is becoming more prevalent. Last year, seven people were killed during a series of violent protests over an alleged desecration of the Quran.
After 19 days in prison, Mondal was released on April 10. Judge Motaharat Akter Bhuiyan of the Additional District and Sessions court-approved Mondal's third bail petition.
The 52-year-old science teacher said he does not understand why he was arrested and charged with blasphemy. "I didn't say anything that day that was offensive to any religion," he said.