The “flame war” within the ‘Bangla blogosphere’ got fierce as atheist bloggers were stigmatized by Islamists. The problem reached a volatile degree when in the month of February an anti-Islamist blogger was murdered. Recently, arrests of four online writers accused of religious insensitivity led to the closure of eight websites in Bangladesh. The issue of blogging fomented in Bangladesh after a group of online activists took to the streets of Dhaka in February to demand the death penalty for Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Kader Mullah. He was sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed during the country’s 1971 war of liberation from Pakistan. Reportedly, the Islamists are demanding the enforcement of Blasphemy laws in the country due to the derogatory remarks passed by the bloggers against Islam. It is impractical on part of both the Bangla bloggers and the Islamists to place such demands even when there are explicit cyber laws present in Bangladesh. Implementation of laws in this context, is more significant than ‘freedom of speech’ or ‘respect for others’ belief system’.
The Bangladesh’s ‘cyber code of conduct’ bars online writers to denigrate any religion. The existing 2006 Right to Information Act prescribes 10 years of imprisonment and penalty up to Taka 1 crore for hurting people’s religious sentiments using the Internet. The century-old Penal Code, on the other hand, suggests two years of imprisonment besides penalty for defaming religion and hurting people’s religious sentiment. According to the Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan, the Bangla government has sprawled in websites to search for those violating the law. The four detainees who tried to defame Islam were among the 11 bloggers identified by the government for ‘instigating hate in the name of religion’.
A right act by the government is being assailed by the liberals. The advocates of ‘freedom of speech’ are forgetting the moral bounds and the condition of religious sensitivity while using the internet. Even the ‘netiquettes’ (internet-etiquettes) do not allow online users to remain indifferent to others’ culture, values and belief system. The atheist bloggers are accusing the government of taking sides with Islamists. They also allege that the Islamist bloggers are planning to march towards Dhaka to demand for the death sentence of anti-Islamist web writers as they had committed blasphemy. On the other hand, the atheists themselves had gathered in Dhaka’s Shahbag Square for over a month to demand toughest punishments for perpetrators of 1971 “crimes against humanity”. It is paradoxically perplexing that how will they categorize ‘denigrating other faiths’ if not under the heading of ‘crimes against humanity’. With the government already setting up a panel to monitor blasphemy on social media the Islamists shouldn’t be hasty as well. It is better for the Bangla blogosphere to accept this ‘stand off’ as a legal matter. Resorting to coercive measures is irrational.
Religious mudslinging has gained momentum since the controversial anti-Islam film on Youtube sparked worldwide protests. Bangladesh also joined the bandwagon of those countries that banned Youtube as an online protest against the hate film. This accentuates the need to carve-out a set of rules for ‘online interfaith dialogue’. Bangladesh can set an unprecedented example by implementing its cyber laws and bringing to book online mischief makers.