04/08/2013, 00.00
BANGLADESH

Bangladesh, Prime Minister: No to a law against blasphemy

Interviewed by the BBC, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that the country is "a secular democracy" in which "everyone has the right to practice their religion." For days, supporters of the Islamist party have been calling for a blasphemy law that prescribes the death penalty for those who offend Muhammad and Islam.

Dhaka (AsiaNews / Agencies) - "Bangladesh does not need laws against blasphemy" according to Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of the country, responding to the demands of radical Islamists to create ad hoc laws to punish those who offend Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. On April 6 hundreds of supporters of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami demonstrated to demand the death penalty for perpetrators of blasphemy, and the creation of a law similar to those existing in Pakistan.

The Muslim fundamentalists have given the government an ultimatum of three weeks to approve an anti-blasphemy law and hand out a heavy punishment to the so-called "atheist bloggers" guilty of offending Mohammed and Islam.

In an interview with the BBC, the Prime Minister and leader of the Awami League said: "This country is a secular democracy. So each and every religion has the right to practice their religion freely and fair. But it is not fair to hurt anybody's religious feeling. Always we try to protect every religious sentiment. "

Last week, police arrested three bloggers. Human rights groups and activists from the secular and democratic movement Shahbag (to which those arrested belong, ed) have criticized the government, accusing it of bowing to pressure from radical Muslims. However, speaking to the BBC, Sheikh Hasina defended the decision of the police to arrest the three bloggers. Refuting allegations of pressure, the prime minister said: " If anybody tried to hurt any sentiments of any religion or any religious leader, there is a law. We can take any action."

Since the end of February more than 80 people have died in protests by supporters of the Jamaat, which together with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) continues to organize strikes (hartal) against the verdicts issued by the courts of war. Most of the victims died at the hands of the police.

In Bangladesh, Islam is the state religion, practiced by more than 89% of the population. Catholics are just 0.1%. The Constitution does not recognize Sharia law and guarantees complete freedom of worship, even if conversions to a religion other than Islam are often opposed.

 

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