A man who allegedly defamed Islam and the Prophet Muhammad on social media a year ago has been arrested and denied bail in Bangladesh, officials said.
Asaduzzaman Noor, a native of southern Barguna district, was arrested Monday night at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, they said.
“The immigration police last night arrested him while he was planning to fly out of Bangladesh. They handed him over to us and we produced him before court today,” Ruhul Amin Sagar, an assistant commissioner in charge of the airport police station, told BenarNews.
A judge at the Metropolitan Magistrate Court denied his bail petition, according to Motaleb Mia, a court official.
Asaduzzaman was facing arrest for blasphemy under the country’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) act and had already fled the country once, sources said.
“In January he wrote objectionable posts about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (SM) on Facebook and YouTube. The principal of a local madrassa filed a case under section 57 of the ICT act,” Md Shahidullah, a police official in Barguna district told BenarNews.
He said police had investigated the charge and found the allegations to be true.
Abdullah Al Masud, a friend of the arrested man, told BenarNews that Asaduzzaman had fled without a visa to India after the madrasa principal filed the case.
The former imam, now living in India, said he escorted Asaduzzaman to the Indo-Bangladesh border on Dec. 7 as he was “desperate” to return to Bangladesh.
“I tried to dissuade him,” but Asaduzzaman had become homesick and frustrated, Masud said.
“He was interested in taking asylum in a Western country. But he did not get the required support from human rights bodies,” he said.
The young man’s romance with an Indian girl had soured and he was facing trouble from Indian police, Masud said.
“I am very sad. I feel very sorry seeing that a person is arrested only for expressing his views,” said Masud.
Journalists, secular writers and international rights groups have accused Bangladesh of failing to protect freedom of speech, saying the Awami League government has formed alliances with fundamentalist groups to weaken the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
“No one in this country has the right to speak in a way that hurts religious sentiment. You won’t practice religion – no problem. But you can’t attack someone else’s religion,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in the midst of a series of killings of secular bloggers in 2015. “It won’t be tolerated if someone else’s religious sentiment is hurt.”
Between February 2013 and April 2016, at least 10 writers, bloggers, publishers, activists and intellectuals were slain in machete attacks by Muslim militants. Dozens of suspects are in jail in connection with the killings.
In April 2017, Bangladesh’s high court upheld death sentences for two suspects in the February 2013 murder of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider, and it upheld life sentences for six other men who were also convicted in the case.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal rejected a suggestion that not enough was being done to find and prosecute the killers.
“This is not true that the police are not working to catch the killers of the bloggers. The killers of Ahmed Rajib Haider were arrested and the trial was on. We hope the police will finalize the charge sheet in the Avijit Roy killing,” Khan told BenarNews, referring to another blogger who was hacked to death in February 2015.