Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid.—File Photo

DHAKA: Bangladesh's prime minister has ruled out a new blasphemy law despite a mass campaign by Islamists to introduce the death penalty for bloggers whom they accuse of insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

As part of their push for a change in the law, the Hefajat-e-Islam group on Monday forced the closure of schools and businesses and barricaded inter-city motorways and railways across the country in a general strike.

Police said at least 30 people were injured in clashes between pro-government activists and Islamists, already infuriated by the recent convictions of leading opposition figures for war crimes.

But Sheikh Hasina, who has been leading a secular government in the Muslim-majority country since 2009, said existing laws were adequate to prosecute anyone accused of insulting a religion.

“Actually, we don't have any plan to (bring in a new law). We don't need it,” Hasina told the BBC in an interview broadcast Monday.

“They should know that existing laws are enough,” she added, before stressing that “this country is a secular democracy”.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of Islamists rallied in the capital Dhaka to demand a blasphemy law, with provisions for the death penalty for those who defame Islam.

There has been vociferous debate between staunch atheists and fundamentalists in Bangladesh's social media for years, but it took a deadly turn in February when an anti-Islam blogger was murdered.

Four online writers were arrested last week on charges of hurting religious sentiment through their Internet writings against Islam.

Under existing cyber laws, anyone convicted of defaming a religion on the Internet can be jailed for up to 10 years.

Hefajat-e-Islam, which describes itself as a non-political organisation, has given the government until the end of the month to meet a series of demands or face a blockade of the capital.

The group also wants Islamic education to be made mandatory in primary and secondary schools, members of the Ahmadi sect to be declared non-Muslims and the restoration of pledges to Allah in the constitution, which Hasina's government has deleted.

Hasina said her government would “go through all the demands” to see “if there is any reasonable one” which it could act on.

Her party, however, accused Hefajat, which draws its support from the country's tens of thousands of Islamic seminaries, of being a pawn of the opposition.

Wielding sticks, thousands of Hefajat activists clashed with ruling Awami League activists in the port city of Chittagong and northern city of Mymensingh as they barricaded roads and inter-city highways.

At least 30 people including five policemen were injured in the clashes, local police chiefs told AFP, adding they fired tear gas and blank shots to disperse the protesters.

About 2,000 Islamists also barricaded a railway in the eastern Brahmanbaria district, halting trains between the capital Dhaka and Chittagong for about four hours, local police chief M. Moniruzzaman told AFP

Hardline Islamist groups have accused Hasina's government of trying to intimidate the opposition through a series of trials for war crimes allegedly committed during the 1971 war of independence.

Three Islamists have so far been convicted and two of them were sentenced to death. At least 96 people have been killed during protests over the trials since January.

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Comments (23)

April 8, 2013 10:10 am
Bravo, hope politicians in Pakistan may get some courage to face islamists here.
Azmat Khan
April 8, 2013 11:04 am
Dear Prime Minister beware , specific blasphemy laws will become a headache for Bangladesh.
April 8, 2013 12:26 pm
If only the PPP government of 1970s had shown the courage that the Awami League government has shown in Bangaladesh, things could have been so different for Pakistan.
Concerned Netizen
April 8, 2013 12:49 pm
Its a gone case here I'm afraid.
April 8, 2013 12:52 pm
Bangladesh is much better than pakistan!!
Gerry D'Cunha
April 8, 2013 3:10 pm
its two face of the same coin my friend (born 1947/matured 1971)
April 8, 2013 3:14 pm
a woman with some guts well done .
Arman Zain
April 8, 2013 3:58 pm
Wow.. People on Dawn are really secular. - Wasn't Pakistan made on name of Islam or I got the history wrong? - Doesn't Islam ask us to stand up for religion or I got Islam Wrong? - Aren't Muslims suppose to fight for fundamental right of "respect of their religious believes" or I got Muslims wrong? It seem either I got too many things wrong or we have forgotten our true identities.
raja hindustani
April 8, 2013 5:15 pm
Do we really need blasphemy Law to save our religion or GOD...?? Humanilty is biggest religion. Make blasphemy law to control inhuman treatment to human being.
raja hindustani
April 8, 2013 5:15 pm
God is supreme and no human can malign any God & all Religion is so pure that no human can impure it.
April 8, 2013 6:08 pm
critical time for Bangladesh. Give a little leeway to the Islamists and we will have another Pakistan in the making.
April 8, 2013 8:10 pm
I admire the courage shown by Hasina's government to call a spade a spade. Our politicians can derive courage from this event.
Tariq Mehsud
April 8, 2013 11:20 pm
Stop dishonoring PAKISTAN.
April 9, 2013 1:18 am
A very sensible thing to do. The miserable state of minorities in Pakistan would provided a good food for thought to Bangladesh PM.
K G Surendran
April 9, 2013 6:54 am
If introduced it could mean mayhem for moderates and minorities, who are already fast dwindling in numbers, and then Bangladesh would be in the news for all the wrong reasons.
April 9, 2013 7:07 am
I am at a loss to understand why leaders of both sides do not sit together or authorize their representatives to sit together and find out the just solution in the light of core religion of the country. It is always the ego of government not to solve out the problem politically instead put the nation in distress. After death of so many innocent people they finally decide to have a dialogue. Why not dialogue held in the beginning and get rid of the nuisance. The Blasphemy Law should be without any mistake or error, all aspects must be covered so that nobody can use it for his own desires and conspiracies. In this connection, all the clerics of different Islamic countries should be invited by Saudi Arabia for formulating a law for all Islamic countries to follow simultaneously.
April 9, 2013 7:54 am
good to mention .. now we dont have to call bangladesh a muslim country .. as said by PM .. she added, before stressing that “this country is a secular democracy”.
civi varghese
April 9, 2013 10:36 am
What a brave decision from a lady for a peaceful country.Bangladesh should not become a Pakistan.
April 9, 2013 12:41 pm
Whats left of pakistan to dishonor
April 9, 2013 2:14 pm
Only very insecure people (or entities) seek protection against criticism.
April 9, 2013 2:34 pm
Only weak Gods have to defend on man-made blasphemy laws to protect themselves. Obviously God of Pakistani Muslims is the weakest God in the world.
anwar kamal
April 10, 2013 2:21 am
We want to live as secular nation.Every body will observe their religion on their own way .The state will not sponsor any religion.The prevailing law is enough to protect the religion.Moreover god will protect all religion.
April 10, 2013 5:16 am
Bangladesh don't want to become a Barbaric country like pakistan. Its a civilized secular country.
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