Communal violence across borders: Riots erupt in Bangladesh over Facebook post about Islam

A derogatory remark against Prophet Muhammad prompted scores of Muslims to take to the streets

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Riots that broke over a blasphemous Facebook post criticizing Prophet Muhammad in Bangladesh on Sunday left at least four people dead.

This death toll is expected to rise as some of the injured are stated to be in a critical condition.

Thousands of Muslims took to the streets in the town of Borhanuddin, about 116kms from Dhaka, to protest against the offensive social media post that was allegedly written by a Hindu man.

An investigation by BBC revealed that Biplab Chandra Baidya, a resident of the Bhola Island in Borhanuddin had allegedly made the comment from his Facebook profile criticizing the Prophet and his youngest daughter. In retaliation to this, around 20,000 Muslims demonstrated at a prayer ground to demand the execution of the young Hindu man for inciting religious hatred.

These protests soon took a violent turn, in response to which the police had to resort to firing. The police claimed that the firing that left 4 dead and at least 50 injured, was done in self-defense as the mob had started throwing rocks at the police officials. The injured also included 10 members of the police. Bangladesh’s leading newspapers reported that at least a 100 people had been hurt in the violence.

The police also resorted to the use of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Border Guards spokesperson Shariful Islam also said that the police had sent a platoon force by helicopter to the spot.

“At least four people were killed and up to 50 people were injured,” police inspector Salahuddin Mia told the AFP news agency.


Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged the crowd to calm down and said that the Facebook account of the man charged with inciting religious tension was hacked by a Muslim person and used to “spread lies”. She said that Baidya was blackmailed to pay 20,000 Bangladeshi Taka (USD 235) or blasphemous content would be posted from his Facebook account.

Bhola Island’s Deputy Police Chief Sheikh Sabbir said that the BiplabBaidya had come to the police station on Saturday, claiming that his account was hacked. Though the charges against him haven’t been dropped the police also believe that Baidya’s account was hacked and the contents were spread through Facebook messenger.

On Monday, the Bhola police enforced an indefinite ban on rallies and booked more than 5,000 unidentified persons for their role in the protests.

Recurring Incidents
The current unrest is not the first time the country is witnessing a situation where the minority community is under attack. The same modus operandi of hacking the account of a person from the minority community and posting derogatory material to give rise to communal hate, has been in use before.

In 2016, angry members from the Muslim community attacked Hindu temples in eastern Brahmanbaria over a post that allegedly mocked one of Islam’s holiest sites.

2012 saw Muslim mobs torching Buddhist monasteries, houses and shops in the coastal area of Cox’s Bazaar following an allegedly defamatory post of a Buddhist youth about the Quran.

The protestors have kept a 6 point demand letter that includes the demand for the execution of the Hindu youth and the removal of the local police chief, failing which they will continue with their protest.

While the PM has ensured swift action in the matter, the lack of verdicts delivered in previous cases of violence point out at the process to finding the truth being a difficult one.

Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country with 90% of the 16.80 crore of the population being Muslims.

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