Islamists in Bangladesh are threatening to behead a former government minister for comments he made 10 months ago criticizing the Hajj pilgrimage.
They also planned nationwide protests for Friday against a court’s decision to grant bail to Abdul Latif Siddiqui, who already lost his job and was imprisoned over the remarks.
“He will be killed wherever he is found. No atheist has been spared since the independence of Bangladesh,” the Dhaka Tribune quoted Maulana Junayed Al Habib as saying at an Iftar gathering at Jamia Madania Madrassa in Dhaka.
Al Habib is members’ secretary of the Dhaka chapter of Hefazat-e-Islam, a madrassa-based organization that represents 70,000 religious schools. He issued the threat Tuesday, a day after the High Court granted bail to Siddiqui in all 17 cases brought against him.
Slandering religion and “hurting religious sentiment” are illegal in Bangladesh. Vigilantes have also taken the law into their own hands. This year alone, suspected fundamentalists have killed three secular bloggers in separate machete attacks.
The charges stem from comments Siddiqui made in New York in September 2014, when he was posts, telecommunications and information technology minister.
At an event organized by Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League, Siddiqui said he was “dead against” the Hajj, one of the pillars of Islam that is required of all Muslims.
“It is sheer waste of manpower. Some 20 lakh [two million] people have gone to Saudi Arabia. They have no work to do. It is deduction, rather than production. They are spending and consuming. They are taking the country’s money to Saudi Arabia,” he said in alleged footage of the event posted on YouTube.
The remarks caused an uproar across Muslim-majority Bangladesh, which forced Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to sack Siddiqui from her cabinet while he was still overseas.
After returning home, he surrendered to a Dhaka court on Nov. 25. On Monday, he was released on bail after nearly seven months in custody.
“We have released him after we received the High Court’s order and he was granted bail in all the cases,” Formal Ali, superintendent of Dhaka Central Jail, told BenarNews.
Siddiqui was unavailable for comment but his lawyer, Jyotirmoy Barua, said his client was entitled to being shielded by the government under the country’s existing laws.
“Atheism is not illegal in our country and we do not have Sharia Law to demand [the] death sentence [for] atheists. The government should take stern action against all irrespective of their political or other identities in such cases,” Barua told the Dhaka Tribune.
Islamists are demanding that the authorities put Siddiqui back in jail immediately, or be held responsible for any consequences.
Members of Islami Oikyo Jote – also a part of Hefazat – marched in Dhaka’s Lalbagh area on Tuesday to protest his release.
“The atrocious atheists and murtads (infidel) are being patronized by granting Latif Siddiqui bail. They will not be allowed to live in this country,” Mufti Faizullah, secretary general of the Jote, said, according to the Dhaka Tribune.
Bangladeshi officials, however, are not saying much about the matter.
They say “it is a sensitive matter” and that they plan to persuade the groups not to stage confrontations during the holy month.
“The government is monitoring the situation carefully and nobody would be allowed to create any law and order situation during Ramadan,” a minister told BenarNews, requesting anonymity.