Can Islamists erode certain freedoms in Bangladesh?

According to a NNC report, Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina has firmly rejected demands by Islamists for a new anti-blasphemy law to punish those who defame Islam and Prophet Muhammad. She said existing laws were sufficient to punish anyone who attempted to insult religion.

Her comments came just days after hundreds of thousands of supporters of an umbrella organisation of Islamists held a massive rally in Dhaka. The marchers called for the death penalty for those guilty of blasphemy.

Ms Hasina said: “They have demanded it. Actually, we don’t have any plan to [bring in the law]. We don’t need it. They should know that existing laws are enough.

“This country is a secular democracy. So each and every religion has the right to practice their religion freely and fair. But it is not fair to hurt anybody’s religious feeling. Always we try to protect every religious sentiment.”

The Islamists have given a three-week ultimatum to the government to meet their demands, including tough punishment to those who they describe as atheist bloggers, who are also accused of making derogatory comments against Islam.

“We will go through all the demands and then we will see. If there is any reasonable one, we will fulfil. If it is not reasonable or not suitable for our country or society we will not accept it,” the prime minister said.

She also defended her government’s decision to arrest four bloggers last week on suspicion of harming religious sentiment through their work.

The arrests prompted eight blog operators to black out their websites, with liberals accusing the government of yielding to Islamist pressure.

“No, [it’s] not that. If anybody tried to hurt any sentiments of any religion or any religious leader, there is a law. We can take any action.”

Pray for Sheikh Hassina and her government as the demands of those calling for stronger laws impact day to day life in the country. And pray for Bangladesh, for freedom for the gospel to penetrate this land.

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