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Bangladesh: Editor, 2 Others Charged for Printing Controversial Book on Islam

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
2016-02-16
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Bangladesh police stand in front of publisher Shamsuzzoha Manik’s closed stall at the Ekushey Book Fair in Dhaka after Manik and two others were charged over a book deemed as hurtful to Muslims, Feb. 16, 2016.
AFP

Three people have been arrested and charged in Bangladesh for allegedly harming Muslim sentiment with the publication of a book titled “Islam Debate.”

Police officers have also shuttered a stall at Dhaka’s famous Ekushey Book Fair, where the arrested editor of the controversial book was selling copies of it. On Tuesday, a court in Dhaka granted police permission to hold three suspects for questioning.

In other news related to freedom of speech, the editor of Bangladesh’s largest English language daily newspaper is facing an arrest warrant and court action over his recent public admission that his paper in 2007-08 published unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against top politicians, including the country’s current prime minister.

Police on Monday arrested editor Shamsuzzoha Manik, the owner of the Badwip Prokshan publishing house that printed “Islam Debate,” Taslim Uddin Kajol, the owner of the printing press, and Shamsul Alam, Badwip’s marketing officer, officials said.

A day earlier, police closed Badwip’s stall at the book fair and confiscated all available copies of the book – a compilation of articles about Islam.

The arrests occurred about three months after militants hacked to death Faisal Arefin Dipan, on Oct. 31, 2015, because he had published the books of Avijit Roy, a secular blogger who was slain by suspected militants on Feb. 26, 2015, as he and his wife left the Ekushey Book Fair.

Charges filed under ICT

“They were arrested Monday night and the Shahbag police station filed a case against them under section 57 (2) of the ICT [Information and Communication Technology Act of 2006] for hurting religious sentiments (of Muslims),” Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Maruf Hasan Sarder told BenarNews on Tuesday.

The section stipulates that a person who deliberately publishes or transmits false or obscene content online or electronically that undermines law and order will face criminal charges. Violators can face up to 14 years in prison.

Charges were filed under the ICT Act because the book was available online, Abdul Baten, a deputy commissioner of police, told reporters. Any electronic material that may prejudice the image of the state or a person, or that may hurt religious beliefs is considered an offense, according to the section of the law.

Baten said police arrested the three because of an ongoing debate about the book on social media.

The court granted permission to put them in remand (extensive questioning at isolated facilities). Police will be able to question Manik for five days, Alam for one day and Kajol for two days, according to the Associated Press.

‘Readers are prudent enough’

Rafiqul Islam, one of the three lawyers of the defendants, told BenarNews that the book was published in November 2010.

“The owner of the printing press, Kajol, is illiterate, but he has been put in remand. He is just a businessman. How is a case under ICT act filed against him?” Islam told BenarNews.

In his view, the arrests will scare off other publishers.

“Even the printing press owners may stop publishing books in the future,” Islam said.

The killings of Roy, Dipan and secular bloggers also have a chilling effect on the industry, he said.

“The events after Avijit Roy’s murder and attacks on the publishers have made us careful about printing and publishing controversial items. We do not know what the book [“Islam Debate”] contains. The publishing house is not a member of our association,” Mazhrul Islam, president of the creative publishers’ association, told BenarNews.

Mohammad Alam, who was shopping for books at the fair on Tuesday, told BenarNews: “Books may contain controversial stuffs but a publisher must not face punishment for writing. The readers are prudent enough to judge the good and bad.”

Warrant issued for Daily Star editor

Meanwhile, a court in the central city of Narayanganj on Tuesday issued a warrant for the arrest of Mahfuz Anam, editor of Bangladesh’s largest English-language paper, The Daily Star. He is accused publishing unsubstantiated stories about corruption that implicated current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, when a military-backed caretaker government ruled Bangladesh in 2007-08.

On Tuesday, pro-government lawyer in Narayanganj Mohsin Mia filed a defamation suit against Anam that led to the warrant order, public prosecutor Wazed Ali Khokon told reporters.

Appearing on a TV talk-show two weeks ago, Anam admitted that his paper published stories that were fed to it by military intelligence officials.

As a result of the reporting by the Daily Star and its Bengali-language sister publication, Prothom Alo, Hasina and Zia were both jailed on corruption charges.

Anam’s admission prompted the prime minister’s son, Sajeeb Wazed, to accuse Anam of publishing false stories against his mother to eliminate her from politics.

Since then, MPs with the ruling Awami League party have demanded that charges be brought against Anam. A court in Dhaka also accepted a treason complaint by an assistant public prosecutor, requiring police to investigate a treason charge and report back on March 28.

Ruling party leaders and activists have filed at least 55 cases against Anam in different parts of the country.

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