02/01/2017, 16.20
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Tight controls on insults to the religious sentiment at Dhaka’s book fair

by Sumon Corraya

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina opened the month-long Amar Ekushey Fair today. February is considered the "month of the language". The event is a venue for thousands new books. Plainclothes agent will monitor stalls to ensure respect for religions.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today opened this year’s Amar Ekushey Book Fair in Dhaka.

Police will provide security to the month-long event, including plainclothes agents, said Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia said.

Their task will be to ensure that books on display do not contain insults to the religious feelings of the population.

One of the most important events in the country, the fair is held every year at the Bangla Academy near the Suhrawardy Udyan National Memorial.

It is dedicated to the martyrs who died on 21 February 1952 in a demonstration calling for the establishment of Bengali (Bangla) as one of the state languages in the former East Pakistan. For this reason, it is considered the "month of the language".

The decision to vet books is due to rise of radical Islam, which led to last year’s Dhaka massacre, the bloodiest in the country's recent history, and to attacks by extremists against minority leaders, bloggers and free-thinkers.

The fair includes 663 stands given in concession to 409 publishing houses presenting thousands of new editions.

DMP Commissioner Mia said authors and publishers have a responsibility to review their books to see if they contained insulting comments. The Bangla Academy, the fair’s organising authority, will eventually scrutinise them as well.

Commenting on the danger that controls could be a barrier to publication, Mia noted that "We believe in freedom of thought, but if someone hurts someone else’s religious feelings and incites sectarian violence, it is no longer freedom of thought."

Last year the authorities shut down one stall because it was selling a book containing insults to Islam.

"We are aware of controls,” said one Muslim publisher. “According to past experience, before printing, we reread the books word for word.”

“Bangladesh is a conservative Islamic country,” he added, “and we must obey the laws of the land and respect the religion of others."

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