Dhaka: Three atheist bloggers in Bangladesh were on Tuesday arrested here on charges of defaming Islam, as the government set up the country's first cyber crime tribunal to prevent exploitation of religion on the Internet. The crackdown as well as the announcement came two days after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged stern action against people found guilty of defaming Islam using the Internet.
"We are amending both the Right to Information Act and the Penal Code toughening punitive measures for hurting the people's religious sentiments," Law Minister Barrister Shafique Ahmed told a press conference also joined by Home Minister Mahiuddin Khan Alamgir and two state ministers.
Ahmed said that the government constituted the tribunal appointing a judge in the capital while a process was underway to set up identical special courts at divisional cities including Chittagong.
He said a government committee comprising two Islamic scholars was constituted to identify websites which were either exploiting or defaming the religion. The committee had recommended the arrests of the three, who have been sent to
seven days remand.
The trio, who were paraded in hand-cuffs at Tuesday's press conference, could face 10 years in jail if convicted under the country's cyber laws, which outlaw "defaming" a religion, deputy commissioner of Dhaka police Molla Nazrul Islam said.
Alamgir said the authorities already amended some minor faults in school textbooks in line with suggestions from Islamic scholars and took steps against the Textbook Board Chairman for the lapses on his part.
The existing 2006 Right to Information Act prescribes 10 years of imprisonment and penalty up to Taka 1 crore for hurting people's religious sentiments using the Internet. The century-old Penal Code, on the other hand, suggests two years of imprisonment besides penalty for defaming religion and hurting people's religious sentiment.
The law minister said that the government was examining ways to toughen both the laws alongside their stringent enforcement. Actions were also ordered against newspapers which carried out reports to exploit religion issuing a directive upon Dhaka's deputy commissioner, state minister for law said.
Last week, Hasina had said that the government has decided to act against those responsible for hurting people's religious sentiments through internet posts and blogs. "As a Muslim, I have the responsibility to take action," she told a meeting of ruling Awami League's central working committee.
Bangladesh authorities earlier banned the YouTube to prevent the viewing of a defamatory video which sparked worldwide protests in late 2012. In February 2013, they closed 12 blogs and Facebook pages for carrying out "malicious publicity" by suspected Islamists amid an intensified nationwide campaign against their leaders for 1971 war crimes.
But the mostly fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami and several other Islamist outfits have been alleging that young "anti-Islamic bloggers" were defaming Islam.
The young bloggers initiated a massive street campaign enforcing a round-the-clock vigil at Dhaka's Shahbag Square for over a month since February 2012 demanding toughest punishment for perpetrators of 1971 "crimes against humanity"
siding with Pakistani troops in the name of protecting Islam. The youngsters earlier rejected the allegation, calling it an effort to thwart the ongoing war crimes trial.