In an overnight drive, law enforcers arrested three bloggers, including a Dhaka University student, from different areas of the capital yesterday for placing “derogatory comments about Islam and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)” on the internet.
The move, which drew immediate flak from people across the board, came hard on the heels of a campaign by radical Islamist groups against the Shahbagh movement.
Radical Islamists have been threatening the country with an April 6 long march towards Dhaka and subsequent nonstop shutdowns, demanding punishment to what they call atheist bloggers.
The arrestees are Subrata Adhikari Shuvo, 24, a master's student of Dhaka University, Russel Parvez, 36, a teacher at an English medium school, and Mashiur Rahman Biplob, 42, a blogger.
Hours after the arrest, they were each placed on a seven-day remand in a case filed for making disparaging comments about Islam and the Prophet.
The arrests, however, could not appease Hefajat-e Islam which, together with other radical Islamist groups, has been campaigning against the Shahbagh protests.
Terming the three "not well known," the Islamist group in a press release last night demanded action against the "real culprits".
Meanwhile, news of the arrests sparked strong criticism of the government on the social media too, with bloggers, rights groups and online and political activists describing it as "an attack on freedom of speech and an insult to democracy".
"We condemn the arrests and demand their immediate release," Sushanta Das Gupta, one of the founders of Amar Blog, told The Daily Star.
Describing the arrests as "sad and shameful," blogger Abu Mustafiz said the government had arrested them as they had been writing about the government's "dubious role" over the Gonojagoron Mancha.
"The government accepts only what it likes and rejects what it dislikes. This cannot be accepted," he told this correspondent.
Dhaka University students and different organisations also protested the arrests and formed human chains at different places, demanding their immediate release.
Meanwhile, Law Minister Shafique Ahmed told newsmen that the government was planning to toughen laws to punish those hurting the religious sentiments of the people.
The three bloggers were detained in separate raids from 10:00pm on Monday to 4:00am yesterday, Mollah Nazrul Islam, deputy commissioner (DC) of Detective Branch of police, told a press briefing.
Shuvo was arrested near Jagannath Hall, Russel at Monipuripara and Biplob at Pallabi, he said, adding that detectives also seized their laptops and desktop computers.
The detectives, however, would not give any details as to what "derogatory contents" the bloggers were made accused of.
But going through some of the contents written by them, some sources claimed that they had made certain comments regarding the Prophet, his relationship with Hazrat Khadija and also about Ramkrishna Paramahamsa.
If convicted, they face up to two years in jail.
Asked, the DC said they were yet to be sure whether the arrestees were involved with any political parties or with the Gonojagoron Mancha, although the bloggers and activists of the Shahbagh protests claimed that they were involved with the movement.
Fahmidul Huq, an associate professor of mass communication and journalism at DU, told a press conference at Madhu's Canteen that Russel Parvez was actively involved with the Shahbagh movement while Shuvo and Biplob were online activists of the movement.
According to detectives, Shuvo, who hails from Laxmipur, used to write on several blogs, including somewhere in…, Amar Blog and Istition using the pseudonyms Sada Mukhosh, Azad, Subrata Subho and Lalu Kasai.
Biplob, a resident of Pallabi in capital's Mirpur, used to write under the pseudonym Allama Soytan on Facebook, Soytan Nagorik on somewhere in…, Soytan on Nagarik and Nemesis on Amar Blog.
Russel, who lives at Monipuripara, used to write under the name of Rasel Pervez on Amar Blog and under the name of Rasel and Opobagh on somewhere in.
On March 31, a group of Muslim clerics submitted to the government a list of bloggers who they thought were involved in writing derogatory comments about religion.
It was not immediately clear if the three were on that list.
Earlier, the government asked the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission to set up a monitoring cell for blocking instantly the blogs that carry derogatory contents about Islam and the Prophet.
LAW MINISTER'S BRIEFING
The government plans to amend the related laws to increase the punishment for those hurting people's religious sentiments through their writings in newspapers and social media, said the law minister.
“Already, we have decided to set up two cyber crimes tribunals in Dhaka and Chittagong to try those accused of these offences. And such tribunals will gradually be set up in all divisions of the country," he said at a press conference at Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs Ministry.
He added that the government had taken steps to try the newspapers that had misled people by publishing distorted pictures of the Gilaf (cover) of Holy Kaba.