Bangladeshi police are saying they may have saved a Hindu’s life by arresting the man just after a group of Muslims pummeled him for allegedly defaming Islam in Facebook chats, while rights advocates are questioning why none of his attackers were arrested.
Arun Gharami, 23, was still in police custody on Thursday, three days after his arrest in Mathbaria, a southwestern sub-district. His case has raised concerns among human rights activists that authorities are using a controversial Bangladeshi law, which allows police to arrest anyone without specific charges, to violate people’s rights.
Gharami was arrested Monday evening after unidentified men beat him up in a local street, according to Abu Zafar Mohamad Masuduzzaman, chief of the sub-district’s police station.
The next day, a judge ordered police to keep Gharami in jail pending an investigation of the allegations against him, Masuduzzaman told BenarNews.
“The angry mob beat him up for alleged defamation of Islam through his Facebook posts eight months ago,” Masuduzzaman said.
Pirojpur district police chief Hayatul Islam Khan defended the officers’ actions in arresting Gharami after they pulled him away from the group of men who attacked him.
“Our aim was to save his life,” he said.
“That is why, we arrested him under Section 54 [of the Bangladesh Penal Code] and kept him under our custody,” Khan said.
He said the victim could not identify his attackers, “so we could not arrest anyone.”
Gharami has not been charged and no cases have been filed against him. Section 54 of the criminal code says police officers may conduct arrests “without an order from a Magistrate and without a warrant” under certain circumstances after receiving a “reasonable complaint.”
Violent attacks on Hindus are not unusual in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, where Hindus make up more than 8 percent of the country’s 170 million people.
Gharami told investigators that members of a Facebook group chat had accused him eight months ago of defaming Islam through his online comments. But Gharami denied the allegations, Khan said.
“If we do not get any proof of defamation, we will submit a report in 15 days before the court,” Khan said.
Gharami’s father, Bipul, rejected the allegations and demanded his release.
“My son has not committed any wrong,” he told BenarNews. “He is innocent.”
Mizanur Rahman, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, said it was “highly unfair” that a man who was being attacked would end up getting arrested instead.
“The police should have arrested the people who beat him,” Rahman said, referring to Gharami.
“But he was arrested on suspicion under section 54 of the Penal Code. This Section 54 has been a tool of human rights abuse in Bangladesh,” Rahman said, adding that rights activists had demanded the provision be removed from the code.
In October last year, at least four people were killed and 43 people were wounded when police fired shots on thousands of Muslims protesting against Facebook messages that allegedly defamed the Prophet Muhammad.
Police claimed self-defense when they opened fire at the demonstrators in Borhanuddin town. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for calm and said that a Muslim man had hacked the Facebook account of the man who was charged with inciting religious tension.
In November 2016, crowds of Muslims with long sticks also attacked temples and the homes of more than 100 Hindu families in the eastern town of Nasirnagar over a Facebook post that allegedly mocked one of Islam’s holiest sites.
At least 20 people, including a priest, were wounded, raising concerns that authorities were not taking steps to curb inter-religious tensions.
The Facebook post, which the protesters considered offensive, included an image of the Hindu god Shiva appearing at a Muslim holy site in the Saudi city of Mecca.
“In both cases, we later saw the so-called defamatory posts were fake or impersonated by others,” Rahman told BenarNews.
“The religious zealots have been carrying out such attacks on the minorities and burning down their houses and temples over false allegations of defaming Islam,” he said. “These are totally unfair and unacceptable.”