Forty-four eminent citizens demanded unconditional release of Baul singer Shariat Sarkar who have been in jail since January 11 in a case filed under the Digital Security Act, on the charge of hurting religious sentiment.
In a statement, they demanded abolishing controversial provisions of the Digital Security Act and urged police to play unbiased role while implementing the law.
"We believe that arresting and imprisoning Shariat Boyati under Digital Security Act is a breach to freedom of expression. Apart from this, it also contradicts Bangladesh's obligation to international laws regarding human rights," read the joint-statement.
The 40-year-old Baul singer was arrested in Tangail's Mirzapur on January 11 after a cleric filed a case over comments made at a stage performance in December.
The civil society members said they have listened to the video clip of the show but did not find it hurting the belief of the religion.
"Freedom of expression will shrink further if the arrest spree under the Digital Security Act continues. Such incidents may put the country into a deep trouble in future," the statement added.
They said diversity in opinion is a major prerequisite for democracy and running the country in line with the spirit of Liberation War.
With the shrinking of freedom of expression,
self-censorship by citizens is surprisingly on the rise, they observed.
The eminent citizens said arbitrary arrests and persecutions of folk singers remind them of the Pakistani rule when such harassments and deterrent to cultural practices had been rationalised in the name of Islam.
The signatories include human rights activists Advocate Sultana Kamal, Barrister Sara Hossain, Nijera Kori Coordinator Khushi Kabir, Dhaka University teachers Prof Gitiara Nasreen, Prof Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela) Chief Executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan, DU Prof Robayet Ferdous, TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman, Manusher Jonno Foundation Executive Director Shaheen Anam, Jahangirnagar University Prof Mirza Taslima Sultana, Prof Meghna Guhathakurta, writer and former JU professor Rahnuma Ahmed, Sushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Sujon) Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar, DU Prof Asif Nazrul, Illinois State University Prof Ali Riaz, eminent jurist Dr Shahdeen Malik, Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, human rights activist Dr Hamida Hossain, DU Prof CR Abrar, educationist Rasheda K Choudhury and Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua.