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Tue May 24 08:06:18 CAT 2016

Bangladesh Islamists protest call to scrap state religion

AFP | 28 March, 2016 08:38
A Muslim woman holds prayer beads as she begs in front of Baitul Mukarram, Bangladesh's national mosque. File photo.
Image by: ANDREW BIRAJ / REUTERS

Bangladesh's largest Islamist party called a nationwide strike Monday to protest a legal move to scrap Islam as the state religion.

Jamaat-e-Islami said the case, due to open on Monday, was a "deep-rooted conspiracy" against religion in the Muslim-majority nation.

"Bangladesh is a 90 percent Muslim nation," said a statement from the group, whose top leaders have been tried and executed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's secular government for war crimes.

"The people will never accept any government move to remove Islam as the state religion from the constitution in an effort to please a handful of anti-religion persons."

Bangladesh was declared officially secular after the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

But in 1988 the then-military ruler elevated Islam to the state religion of the South Asian country in an effort to consolidate power.

This month the High Court agreed to hear a petition by secularists who have argued for decades that Islam's special status discriminates against non-Muslims.

In recent months militants claiming to be soldiers of the Islamic State group have claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on converts and minorities including Shiite, Sufi and Ahmadi Muslims, Christians and Hindus.

Secularists killed

Here are some key dates in a series of attacks on atheist and free-thinking bloggers:

  • January 14, 2013 - Atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin, 31, is attacked by a group of unidentified young men with machetes in the capital Dhaka.
  • Mohiuddin is arrested in April 2013 along with three other secular bloggers for "hurting religious sentiments" in the Muslim-majority nation. He leaves the country for Germany.
  • February 15, 2013 - Secular blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider, 35, who campaigned against Islamist leaders accused of war crimes, is hacked to death by machete-wielding attackers near his home in Dhaka's Pallabi neighbourhood.
  • A court sentences two students to death for his murder in December 2015.
  • February 26, 2015 - Avijit Roy, 42, an American-Bangladeshi writer and the moderator of a "free-thinking" blogging website, and his wife Rafida Ahmed are attacked just yards (metres) away from a book fair in Dhaka. Roy dies and his wife is severely wounded.
  • March 30, 2015 - Secular blogger Washiqur Rahman, 27, is hacked to death in broad daylight near his home in Dhaka's Tejgaon area. Two of the attackers, both students at an Islamic seminary, are arrested at the scene.
  • May 12, 2015 - Secular blogger Ananta Bijoy Das, 33, a banker and a founder of a group called the Science and Rationalist Council, is hacked to death near his home in northeastern city of Sylhet.
  • August 7, 2015 - Secular blogger Niloy Chakrabarti, 40, who wrote online under the pen name Niloy Neel, is hacked to death in his home in central Dhaka.
  • October 31, 2015 - Publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan, 43, who published a bestselling book by murdered writer Avijit Roy, is killed at his office in a market in central Dhaka.
  • A separate attack seriously wounds publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul, blogger Ranadipam Basu and poet Tareq Rahim.

Attacks on Christians

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the murder of a Christian convert in northern Bangladesh, according to a US-based monitoring group.

Police said at least two attackers with sharp weapons on Tuesday killed 68-year-old Hossain Ali, who converted to Christianity from Islam in 1999.

In a communique posted on Twitter, IS said the murder was "a lesson to others", according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activity on the Internet.

"A security detachment from the soldiers of the Caliphate was able, by the grace of Allah the Almighty, to kill the apostate (Ali), who changed his religion and became a preacher for the polytheist Christianity," the statement said.

In recent months IS has said it was behind a series of attacks on religious converts and minorities in Bangladesh including Shiite, Sufi and Ahmadi Muslims, Christians and Hindus.

The Bangladesh government denies IS is present in the country and police on Wednesday rejected the group's claim of responsibility for the latest killing, insisting it was "bogus".

"We're investigating the killing. A case has been filed and we've arrested five men for questioning," Tobarak Ullah, police chief in the northern district of Kurigram where the killing took place, told AFP.

IS also said it had killed a Shiite convert from Sunni Islam in the southwestern town of Kaliganj.

Sufficient security

The potential move back towards state secularism has enraged Islamists, thousands of whom staged angry demonstrations in major cities and towns on Friday, and security was tight ahead of the hearing.

"We've sufficient security arrangements in the capital to prevent any violence or any act of sabotage," Dhaka police spokesman Maruf Hossain Sorder told AFP.

Jamaat said its activists had staged demonstrations and marches in at least half a dozen neighbourhoods in Dhaka.

However, offices, schools and private businesses were largely open.

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