Bangladesh Islamists gear up to punish blasphemy

Dhaka, March 31 (IANS) Amid heightened political tensions, a group of Bangladesh Islamic scholars Sunday submitted a list of bloggers who they alleged had committed blasphemy.

They handed over the list to the head of a government-formed committee, tasked with identifying and bringing to book bloggers and online activists who engaged themselves in writing derogatory contents.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina administration March 13 formed the nine-member panel to identify and take action against those making derogatory remarks against Islam using social media like Facebook and blogs.

"We met a group of Islamic scholars (today). One (scholar) gave us a list of 30-32 bloggers," Mainuddin Khandakar, head of the committee, told Xinhua.

He said they have already closed a website for "hurting religious sentiments".

Muslim-majority Bangladesh discourages blasphemy by a provision in its penal code that prohibits "hurting religious sentiments".

Under existing law, Khandkar said insulting Islam and the prophet was a crime that may be punished by both imprisonment and fine.

The submission of the list of the bloggers, whom they (scholars) accuse of insulting Islam, came less than a week before the Hefazat-e-Islam, an organization of the like-minded Islamists, is set to stage a Dhaka-bound long march from across the country.

Hefazat-e-Islam Sunday renewed the threat to hold the march April 6 unless the "atheist bloggers" were arrested.

It also threatened to wage a tougher movement if the government used the state machinery in an attempt to impede its long march.

Expressing anger at the insults to Islam and its Prophet, thousands of people have staged demonstrations in many cities and towns of the country.

In the incidents of violence since last month, dozens of people including Islamists died and hundreds were injured as thousands from religion-based parties and groups fought pitched battles with police.

Since the death of a blogger who spearheaded Bangladesh's Shahbag Square movement, a series of blog posts described as anti-Islamic have circulated although their authorship has so far remained unclear.

Blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was hacked to death near his home in Dhaka Feb 15 after he joined a huge protest demanding the execution of leaders of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party who are on trial for war crimes.

Although the Shahbag protesters have already denied the blasphemy allegations brought against them and Haider, Islamist parties allegedly backed by Jamaat, a key ally in former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's main opposition alliance, have continued their movement.

Youths imbued with the spirit of the country's nine-month liberation war gathered in Shahbag Feb 5 under the banner of "Bloggers and Online Activist Network" after the International Crimes Tribunal sentenced Abdul Quader Mollah of Jamaat to life term imprisonment for war crimes.