05/16/2019, 15.20
BANGLADESH
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Catholic poet from Barisal arrested for hurting Catholic “religious feelings"

by Sumon Corraya

A priest made a formal complaint against Henry Sawpon for insulting Christianity. According to the plaintiff, the poet has made defamatory comments since 2015, which could spark a row with the Muslim majority. As a poet, Henry Sawpon could be our pride,” says Christian leader.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Bangladesh police have arrested a famous poet for offending the religious sentiments of the country’s Christian minority.

Police took into custody Henry Sawpon, a Catholic, at his home in Barisal, a city some 245 km south of Dhaka, after a local priest, Fr Lawrence Lecavallier Gomes, rector of the episcopate of Barisal, filed a complaint against him.

"Since 2015, Henry Sawpon has been writing comments on Facebook against the bishop, priests, nuns and brothers,” Fr Gomes told AsiaNews. “These posts could provoke a row between Muslims and Christians, in a country where the Christian community is already a minority.”

Citing some of the poet’s posts, the clergyman notes that the poet “wrote that young priests organised a seminar for young people where girls were raped,” adding that this “is less serious than imams taking girls into mosques to teach the Qur‘an and become happy.” Such “comments are an insult to us."

The 48-year-old poet's Facebook profile is full of invectives against the local clergy. On 24 April, one post read: "While a room is on fire, Mgr Lawrence Subroto plays the flute,” and "The bishop, his father, his sister and brothers are idiots".

After the police charged the poet with breaking the digital security law, a court rejected his bail application. He now faces the possibility of up to 14 years in prison.

Several rights groups have criticised the arrest and fear that the law is being used to limit freedom of expression and crack down on dissent.

The poet’s supporters include Kajal Ghosh, president of the Barisal Cultural Organizations Coordination Council, a Hindu association. "We condemn the arrest of Henry Sawpon," he said.

Fr Michael Milon Dewri, vicar general of the diocese, says that "Henry Sawpon never comes to Mass. He has bad intentions, and wants to tarnish the good name of the Christian community of Bangladesh.”

For example, "On Easter Sunday, after hearing about the attacks in Sri Lanka, young Catholics organised a prayer meeting to remember the victims and observe a minute's silence. They (not the priests) organised the event. As a religious leader, the bishop also participated, but then Henry Sawpon insulted him on the Facebook page. We want him punished for offending our religious feelings."

For the priest, the poet’s verbal violence goes back to the refusal by Church authorities to give him a piece of land that would have allowed him to build a road leading directly to his home.

"We could not accept his request because it would bring problems to the Church, and he became furious," Fr Michael said.

“As a poet, Henry Sawpon could be our pride,” said Norbet Nipu Adhikary, president of the local Bangladesh Christian Association. “Instead, he uses his mind to insult our religious leaders."

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