“The Bengali journalist and blogger Arnab Goswami writes on his website about the case of his late-year arrested colleague Asad Noor.
Because of the charge of blasphemy this threatens a long prison sentence.
On December 25, 2017, the Bengali police caught a “criminal” at Shahjalal International Airport – the country’s largest airport. It was like a Christmas present for the masses.
A “criminal” was captured just before he planned to leave the country. What a relief! He became a talk of the town overnight. The keyboard warriors pleaded for a death sentence or at least life imprisonment. The crime must have been serious!
That was it. The alleged perpetrator Asad Noor strove for religious freedom. He also believed in some utopian idea called humanity. Worst of all, he thought that freedom of expression was not just a word in the Bangladesh constitution, but a right for all. As everyone can see, the size of his crime was monumental.
The arrest and the possible public outcry calling for severe punishment are well justified. Just a few days before, Asad Noor had come back from India to Bangladesh to withdraw his visa. After a series of death threats, he left India for Bangladesh in 2016. But since his return to the country, he found things even worse for the worse. He soon realized that the only way for him to stay alive was a second exodus. He decided to move to Nepal.
Unfortunately, he was unaware that he was already being searched for, as an ad was filed against him by a Mufti Omar Farooq on January 11, 2017. The case was filed in Amtoli in Barguna district where Asad’s parents were staying.
Mufti Farooq is the president of the local division of a fundamentalist Islamic society called Islami Andolon. When he submitted his documents to the immigration office, Asad Noor was immediately arrested and taken into custody.
Asad was arrested under Section 57 of the infamous Bengali Information and Communications Technology Act of 2006. The above-mentioned section is similar to a blasphemy law. Its crucial section is:
“If someone deliberately publishes, transmits, publishes or causes material to be published on a web page or in any other electronic form that is being published, that is false and obscene, and if anyone sees, hears or reads it and so takes into account all relevant circumstances the effect is to influence readers to become dishonest or corrupt, or to either worsen or encourage law and order, or to damage the effect of damaging the reputation of the state or individuals, or the effect of religious sentiment violate or possibly violate, or the effect of inciting against a person or organization, then this activity is regarded as a criminal offense. “
Under this law, the convicted offender is punished with at least 7 and up to 14 years in prison. He or she can also be fined up to 10 million BDT (about 100K Euro). Before the amendment of the law in 2013 under the current regime of the party Awami League, the highest penalty for this so-called crime was 10 years imprisonment. In addition to the extension of the sentence, the probation was also abolished.
Unfortunately, Asad Noor is not the first victim of Bangladesh’s constantly Islamist-influenced legislation. Several other bloggers, including Asad’s close friend and blogger Limon Fakir, have already been arrested by the police for the same repressive clause. There is currently no information about the fate of Fakir; He is believed to be in one of the highest security jails in the country awaiting trial.
The law was originally intended to suppress the voices of dissidents and then proved to be the perfect instrument for the rich and powerful. Journalists were also arrested for reporting the allegations of corruption or the quality of products. Even members of minorities came with this law in the crosshairs of Islamist groups with the help of the state executive. Prior to the change in 2014, the police had to seek approval from the relevant authorities before they could take action. The new freedom of action allowed the police to act with no consequences whatsoever.
Because of the international uprising against the suppressive law, lawmakers in Bangladesh have said they will repeal the law. The final draft of the new law, known as the Digital Security Act, will be made available online soon. However, penalties for slander against religious beliefs are extensively available in all previous drafts and are just as rigid as previous legislation. The prominent Bengali newspaper The Daily Star reported that
“Section 30 of the bill states that if a person or group intentionally publishes or transmits material on a web site or in any other electronic form that generates enmity and hatred between different sections or communities or violates the harmony of the community or instability or anarchy or creates the possibility of a deterioration in public order, this activity is considered a criminal offense. “
Such a crime is punishable by a maximum of five years’ imprisonment, a fine of 500,000 BDT or both.
If someone commits the crime twice or more, he or she will be punished with a maximum of seven years imprisonment, a fine of 1 million BDT, or both.
Section 27 of the bill mentions that if a person or group intentionally publishes or transmits material on a website or in any other electronic form that violates someone’s religious beliefs, that activity is considered a crime and the perpetrator is considered to be at a maximum Prison sentence of five years, a fine of 1 million BDT or both.
Laws and regulations are required without any doubt for every country and society. But laws are also an excellent way to get away with something immoral with impunity. They are the best way to silence critical voices.
What Asad Noor did was indeed a crime in the eyes of the Islamists and the existing law in Bangladesh. But was it a crime in the ethical sense? Since the new draft is yet to be signed by the highest authority, in the end Noor could spend the next decade of his life in prison. In fact, if such a harsh judgment were made, it would not be illegal, but would it be moral? The existing law of the country can hardly afford the 26-year-old freethinker. This can only be done by the international community, which can make demands and put pressure on Bangladesh to allow Asad Noor to live a life of freedom.”
(Translated by Google translate)