Bangladesh Crackdown on Atheist Bloggers Intensifies; Four Arrested

Bangladesh authorities have arrested a fourth atheist blogger and charged him with defaming Islam, as part of an effort to clamp down on religious offenses over the Internet.

"(Blogger) Asif Mohiuddin has been arrested on charges of hurting religious sentiment through his writings on blogs and Facebook," a police spokesman said, according to

Mohiuddin, 29, is a prominent figure in Dhaka, the capital, and was viciously attacked by Islamists in January, who stabbed him repeatedly when he was leaving work one night, and left him fighting for his life.

The blogger is the fourth atheist to be arrested in two days in Bangladesh, a heavily Muslim country which deems blasphemy a serious offense.

The three other bloggers, including a Dhaka University student, were placed on a seven-day remand for their comments about Islam. Officials say that the men ridiculed Muslims online, which radicals say is punishable by the death penalty.

Hefajat-e Islam, a new Islamic group, has even threatened Dhaka officials with a suicide attack if they interfere with their demands of putting the atheist bloggers to death.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has promised "stern action" against those found to be defaming and exploiting Islam, which has fueled the initiative behind street campaigns against the bloggers.

"It's shame that the government is sacrificing the bloggers to woo voters," Mohiuddin said last week.

AFP reported that Zahida Meherunnesa, Mohiuddin's sister, is worried about her brother's health, who is still recovering from the stabbing.

"Asif did absolutely nothing to deserve this. Even if he had insulted people instead of ideas, he wouldn't have deserved this. This is faith-based madness, and every decent person should stand in his defense. To accuse him of doing anything wrong means supporting his attackers for using violent methods to control non-violent speech," wrote Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist blog about the January attack.

Bangladesh has been locked in an intense conflict between atheist bloggers and Muslim fundamentalists, leading to a series of attacks on atheists, including one deadly incident in February when a blogger was murdered.

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