Authorities have closed down a publisher's booth at Bangladesh's national book fair and detained the publisher and two of his employees on the allegation of displaying a book that hurts religious sentiments and posting some of its content online.
The decision to shutter the booth comes at a time when secular thought and criticism of religion are increasingly dangerous undertakings in the South Asian country.
Police say they learned from social media that the book ‘Islam Bitarka’ (The Islam Debate) by Ba-Dwip Prokashony (Ba-Dwip Publications) allegedly has content that “offends Islam” — specifically, a chapter titled “Muslim Manosher Jouna Bikriti (Sex Perversion of the Muslim Mind)”. Under national law, any person who has a “deliberate” or “malicious” intention of “hurting religious sentiments” can be prosecuted.
They informed the Ekushey Book Fair authorities about the book, and on Monday, February 15, law enforcement sealed the book stall in the early hours of business.
— DhakaTribune (@DhakaTribune) February 15, 2016
আবারও প্রকাশনী বন্ধ, এবার বদ্বীপ। বাংলা একাডেমী মারহাবা!!
— এমদাদুল হক তুহিন (@EMDADULHUQTUHI1) February 15, 2016
Another publication is banned, this time its Ba-Dwip. Bravo Bangla Academy (sarcasm)!!
‘Islam Bitarka’ is a translation of an anthology edited by Shamsuzzoha Manik, the owner of Ba-Dwip publishing house. The book was first published in 2010 and brought to Ekushey Book Fair in 2012, where it received no fuss until this February.
Manik, who is also a blogger and writer, was later detained by the police along with two of his employees. All copies of the book were confiscated from the premises and copies of five other books have been taken under scrutiny. Manik reportedly had published some of the contents of the book in a blog. A case has been lodged against them under the controversial Article 57 of the Information and Communications Technology Act, which criminalizes “publishing fake, obscene or defaming information.”
The book fair's rules and regulations says in Section 13.13 that before closing a stall, the publisher will be given a deadline to remove objectionable books from the fair. If the publisher fails to comply, then the authorities will close all activity of the publishing house within the premise. It is unclear whether Ba-Dwip Publications was given a timeline or the contents were examined before shutting the stall down.
‘Such events are not new in Bangladesh’
In recent years, Islamist groups have been using mainstream and social media to provoke Bangladeshis against secular writers and bloggers and to threaten them — with deadly results. Four bloggers and a book publisher were assassinated in 2015 alone.
Bangladesh’s constitution enshrines the right to free expression, and atheists have the same rights as any other citizens. But the secular government of this Muslim-majority country has done little to discourage these attacks or bring killers to justice.
Haseeb Mahmud at Sachalayatan community blog observed:
গত দুই দিন সামাজিক যোগাযোগ মাধ্যমগুলো পর্যবেক্ষণ করে এটা পরিস্কার হয় যে লেখক ও ব্লগার শামসুজ্জামান তার একটি বই ব-দ্বীপ প্রকাশনের মাধ্যমে প্রকাশ করেছেন যেটা কোমলমতি নৃশংস ধর্মপ্রাণ ধার্মিকদের মনে আঘাত দিয়েছে। এ ধরণের ঘটনাপ্রবাহ বাংলাদেশে নতুন কিছু নয়। নতুন বিষয়টা হলো কীভাবে সামাজিক যোগাযোগ মাধ্যম ব্যবহার করে এ ধরণের মৌলবাদি কার্যক্রম সংগঠিত করা হচ্ছে সেটা। পুলিশও বলছে তারা সামাজিক যোগাযোগ মাধ্যমে এই “ধর্মীয় অনুভুতিতে আঘাতের কথা জেনেছে।”
From monitoring the social media in the last two days alone, it is deemed that author and blogger Shamsuzzoha has hurt the religious sentiments of impressionable believers through a book by his Ba-Dwip Publications. Such events are not new in Bangladesh. What is new is the use of social media to instigate such radical activities against publishers. Police are also claiming they came to know about hurting the religious feelings through social media.
In recent times, Bangladesh has seen alarming use of social media to incite hatred and action against writers, activists and minorities. In 2012, an image of a burnt Quran was posted using a fake minority account on Facebook, creating outrage in Ramu, a southern area of Bangladesh where seven Buddhist temples were burnt down as a consequence.
When asked by BBC Bangla if ‘Islam Bitarka’ had previously been banned or if the book was unknown to people, Shamsuzzaman Khan, the director general of Bangladesh's language authority Bangla Academy, which organizes the book fair, replied:
If I say this and if you publicize it, the possibility of a riot is imminent. Do you want that? I can read it to you. This should be definitely banned.
‘A revolution from inside against faith-based beliefs’
This is not the first time a book stall has been shut down on the grounds of hurting religious sentiments in Bangladesh. Last year, Rodela Prokashani (Rodela Publishers) faced the same consequences for their translation of a book about the Prophet Muhammad's life. The website of the publication was hacked and the publisher faced death threats over the book.
Three months ago, two Bangladeshi publishers of secular books were attacked separately the very same day. In one of the attacks, Faisal Arefin Dipon, 43, was hacked to death at his office, Jagriti Prokashoni publishing house, in Dhaka. Between February and April 2015, four bloggers were hacked to death including Avijit Roy and Oyasiqur Rahman Babu in public.
Shamsuzzoha Manik earlier wrote in a blog about the recent attacks on secularists and free-thinkers in Bangladesh:
নিরীশ্বরবাদী এবং মুক্তচিন্তার মানুষরা কেন জিহাদীদের প্রধান টার্গেট হল। [..] প্রকৃতপক্ষে অন্ধ ধর্মবিশ্বাস থেকে মুক্ত, যুক্তিবাদী এবং মুক্তচিন্তার মানুষরা লোকবাদী বা প্রকৃত সেকিউলার বাংলাদেশের আদর্শিক ভিত্তি নির্মাণে একটি ইতিবাচক ভূমিকা রাখছে। ইসলামী পৃথিবীর কোথায়ও অলোকবাদী ধর্ম এবং ইসলামের বিরুদ্ধে এভাবে ভিতর থেকে বিদ্রোহ হয় নাই। এ ক্ষেত্রে বাংলাদেশ ব্যতিক্রম। এর তাৎপর্য অপরিমেয়।
Why are atheists and free-thinkers in Bangladesh becoming targets of the jihadists? […] These free-thinkers, who think with logic, who are free from religious superstitions, are really making a positive contribution in all walks of life towards building a truly secular ideology for Bangladesh. Nowhere in the Islamic world there has been such a revolution from inside against faith-based beliefs. Bangladesh is an exception. This is very significant.
This latest news, combined with recent attacks on bloggers and publishers, shows just how high the price of secularism in Bangladesh remains.