Thousands in Bangladesh protest to demand ex-minister’s death over blasphemy

Hefazat protest against Latif siddiqui, 3rd july getty images

Dhaka: Thousands of general people protested after Friday prayers in the heart of the Bangladeshi capital demanding the re-arrest and trial for a former government minister accused of blasphemy for comments against Islam.

Anger among general people, especially Islamists, has been rising since former telecommunications minister Abdul Latif Siddiqui was released on bail last week over comments he made in 2014 against the annual Haj pilgrimage.

Supporters of Hefajat-e-Islam and Islamic parties chanted “Death for infidel Latif” and waved placards during a march through the capital. “Our protest will continue till the government ensures the highest punishment for the non-believer,” Noor Hossain Kafeli, a senior leader of Hefajat, told reporters.

Hundreds of riot and plainclothes police flanked the march in case of violence, while similar protests were held in other parts of the country.

Hefajat led mass protests in 2013 calling for a new blasphemy law that left scores of people dead, mainly in clashes with police.

“At least three to four thousand people are attending this procession. We are remaining alert to avoid any untoward incidents,” a police commander said.

Security cordons of police were seen in the protest area starting from 11 am Friday. Large numbers of police were seen to be deployed in Paltan intersection Zero Point, Dainik Bangla intersection, Bijay Nagar, north gate of Baitul Mokarram areas to avert any untoward situation centering around the demonstrations.

Earlier on Wednesday, Hefazat-e-Islam announced demonstrations across the country after Jumu’ah prayers on Friday to protest against the release of expelled Awami League leader Abdul Latif Siddique from jail and demand his rearrest and subsequent trial. Dhaka city unit of Khilafat Majlis had also called for demonstrations on Friday at the north gate of Baitul Mukarram to realize the same demand. Similarly, Islamic Andolon had also announced protest programs to demand the same.

On Monday, sacked minister Abdul Latif Siddiqui was released on bail from Dhaka Central Jail in ten cases for hurting religious sentiments.

Siddiqui had told Bangladeshi expatriates at a gathering in New York last September that he was “dead against” the Haj mainly because it was a “waste” of manpower.

Footage of the comments was broadcast back in Bangladesh where protests had prompted Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to sack him. He was eventually arrested for “wounding religious sentiments” and remains under police investigation. No charges have been laid against the released ex-minister.

Gallery:

Dhaka, Baitul Mokarram

Chittagong and others: