Bangladeshi authorities said Monday they had arrested nine suspects in connection with the ransacking by Muslim mobs of at least 24 Hindu temples and hundreds of homes in two eastern districts on Sunday.
Among those in custody, a member of Bangladesh’s Hindu minority was arrested over allegations that he posted a message on Facebook deemed as defamatory to Islam – the country’s dominant religion – and border guards and police were deployed to quell the violence, authorities said.
At least two dozen temples and more than 300 homes were vandalized Sunday in Nasirnagar, in Brahmanbaria district, and Madhabpur, in Habiganj district, by more than 150 Muslims who became incensed over the Facebook posting that featured an image of the Hindu God Lord Shiva near the Kaaba – the building that lies at the heart of the al-Masjid al-Haram, Islam’s most sacred mosque in the holy city of Mecca.
Moni Halder, general secretary of the Puja Udjapon Committee (worship celebration committee), told BenarNews that the violence erupted on Sunday after a Hindu fisherman, Rasraj Basu Das, 27, allegedly posted the picture on Facebook.
“Das said he did not post the picture; someone impersonated him,” Halder said.
Abdul Karim, additional superintendent of police in Brahmanbaria district, told BenarNews that police filed charges against Das under the country’s Information and Communication Technology Act. Section 57, under which Das was charged, prohibits online defamation of any individual, state or religion, stipulating jail terms between seven and 14 years for such offenses.
Complaints filed against Muslim groups
Sonia Parvin, an assistant superintendent of police of Brahmanbaria district, said police would seek a five-day remand on Tuesday to hold Das for questioning.
Parvin said victims had filed two complaints on Monday relating to rampage and trespassing against three Islamic organizations: Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Bangladesh Islami Front and Gausia Jubo Songothon (Gausia Youth Organization). The eight Muslims who have been arrested, if convicted, could face jail terms between three and five years for rampage and trespassing, according to Bangladesh’s penal code.
Halder said the ransacking was carried out under the banner of the three organizations by workers from Hefazat-e-Islami, an association of conservative Muslim teachers and students, and activists from other political parties.
“But the administration did not take preventive measures to stop such attacks,” Halder said.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said police were acting to keep people safe.
“We have deployed adequate number of police and BGB [Border Guard Bangladesh] members in Nasirnagar and Madhabpur to avert any further attempt to attack minorities. No offenders will be spared,” Kamal told BenarNews.
Kajol Jyoti Dutta, who filed one of the complaints, told reporters that religious zealots had been preparing for the attack since Friday when the Facebook post was detected.
“They captured Das and handed him over to the police. So, why this attack?” he asked.
On Saturday, Das posted an apology on Facebook to Muslims for hurting their religious sentiment. Das said that someone had hacked into his account on the social media platform.
Shankar Saha, a resident of Madhabpur in Habiganj district, told BenarNews that the zealots chanted anti-Hindu slogans and threw brickbats at the temples and houses during Sunday’s rampage.
“When the BGB members rushed in, they fled,” he said, adding “we would leave the country if we are not given protection.”