Bangladesh’s Awami League government has been piling much pressure on India to arrest a blogger Asaduzzaman Noor who has been staying in India incognito and fiercely attacking Hasina and her ministers, especially information minister Dr Hasan Mahmud for allegedly undermining the secular fabric of the country.
Noor alleges the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission in Calcutta has been spearheading efforts to pressurize Indian police and intelligence to nab him and claims he has support from the “Indian people, specially secular elements” to let him stay in India to avoid targeting by the government and the Islamist radicals.
Police in Bangladesh have been seeking to arrest human rights activist and secular blogger Asaduzzaman Noor, also known as Asad Noor, after new criminal charges were brought against him on July 14 this year for ‘spreading rumours’ and ‘defaming Islam’ via a Facebook video.
In the video in question, Noor speaks in support of a Buddhist monk who has been critical of the government for its decision to illegally appropriate a Buddhist temple in Chittagong. He also defends a pro-LGBTI educational platform, in a country where it remains illegal to be LGBTI.
The Digital Security Act 2018 (DSA) under which Noor was charged acts as a de facto blasphemy law.
Human Rights activists blame the Bangladeshi government as a draconian tool to curb freedom of expression and silence its critics– a charge the Hasina government stoutly denies.
“In 2020 alone, individuals accused under the Act have been arbitrarily arrested, forcibly disappeared, held in pretrial detention for indefinite periods and in some cases, tortured,” alleged the Humanists International.
Noor has previously been targeted under the DSA’s predecessor, the 2013 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act. In January 2017, the then 25-year-old was arrested at Dhaka airport and charged with defamation of religion for content he had posted on social media.
Though released briefly on bail in August 2018, he was subsequently re-arrested after a radical Islamic organization known as Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh called for him to be imprisoned and subjected to the death penalty.
He was only released from prison again in January 2019. These charges against him remain outstanding and the activist has since then fled into India.
Police threaten Noor’s family
While Noor remains in hiding due to the threats on his life by Muslim fundamentalists and moved to Calcutta, his family in Bangladesh have become a target for harassment by the authorities. “In the days after his video was posted, police went to the Noor family home, abducted several members of his family, including his elderly parents, and detained them for 48 hours without charge,” said the Humanists International.
“Given the history of vigilante violence in Bangladesh, Humanists International is concerned that Noor’s family remains at risk of intimidation from the police as well as from followers of radical Islam seeking to exact revenge on Noor,” it said.
A history of violence in Bangladesh
Between 2013 and 2016, Bangladesh experienced a wave of violence against bloggers, atheists, and secular intellectuals, which later extended to aid workers, minority religions and Muslims who opposed the ideology of extremist Islam. At least 30 people were murdered over this period, some even in broad daylight at the hands of men wielding machetes and knives.
But while Noor and his supporters in India and Bangladesh claim he is a peaceful activist who is being targeted by the government in breach of his right of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief, the Hasina government alleges he has “ISI connections” and ” is working to disturb communal relations in Bangladesh .”
“He is even attacking our Hon’Ble Prime Minister and senior ministers like Hasan Mahmud. He has attacked our Deputy High Commission for seeking to get him arrested and repatriated to stand trial in Bangladesh,” said a senior official of the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry.
“His targets are government functionaries, not the fundamentalists,” the official said but he was not willing to be named.
Humanists International calls on the Bangladeshi authorities to drop all charges against Noor under the abusive DSA and the ICT Act, and to end its illegal campaign of harassment and intimidation against Asad’s family members in breach of their basic human rights.
But Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal is said to have spoken to “senior Indian ministers” seeking immediate police action to nab and repatriate Noor to stand trial in Bangladesh.
Kamal is particularly upset after Noor unleashed a barrage of social media posts against the government that has impacted far and wide.
Noor was arrested at the Dhaka airport on charges of writing blasphemous posts on social media in Dec 2017. He has been on the run after the head of an Islamic seminary filed a case against him on January 11 this year under the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act.
He was arrested from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka while trying to board a Kathmundu-bound flight, a senior police official was quoted as saying. Immigration police said that Mr Noor was detained after his passport number raised red flag in the immigration system at the airport.
Noor was charged under Bangladesh’s strict internet laws and could face up to 14 years in jail if found guilty.
Hundreds of Muslims had staged demonstrations against Mr Noorfor the past few years after Bangladesh Islami Andolon Amtali unit President Mufti Omar Farooq filed the case against him in 2017.
In recent years, Islamist extremists have hacked to death a dozen bloggers, publishers and activists, and forced several others to flee the country. Following the attacks, the government launched a crackdown on extremist groups.