Chronology of Major Blasphemy Cases in Bangladesh [1972-2007]


As a consequence of the Jamaat e Islami’s active support of Pakistan army during the 1971 liberation war, and in forming death squads (al badr and al shams), all Islamic parties are banned. The first Bangladesh constitution lists “secularism” as one of four founding principles.

Daud Haider publishes poem in ‘Sangbad’ literary section where he allegedly insults Prophet Mohammed, Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha. A college teacher files a case in Dhaka court. Protests ignite, and Dhaka sees first Islamist procession since 1971 liberation war. Haider is taken into protective custody and moves to India in 1975. He later migrates to Germany.

Social worker Engineer Enamul Haq publishes a leaflet which contains reference to the Prophet’s wives, although Haq says it was not meant in a negative way. Death threats and processions are brought out, but the protests diminish as the government of Awami League dismisses the protests as “politics of anti-liberation forces”. Haq spends time in protective custody but is later released.

After a military coup, General Zia ur Rahman removes secularism from constitution. Article 25(2) also provides that “the state shall endeavor to consolidate, preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity.”

After a military coup, General Ershad passes a constitutional amendment declaring Islam as state religion. National protests are quickly suppressed by the military regime.

Based on the new constitutional amendment, legislation is drafted to declare Ahmadiyas as non-Muslims.

In Md. Jamir Sheikh v Fakir Md. A. Wahab, Magistrate’s Court issues arrest warrants under sections 295A, 298 and 109.

Islamist groups begin a process of implementing salish (village council) and fatwa in the villages.

Dr. Ahmad Sharif faces two private complaints for having committed offences under sections 295A and 298 BPC following a report published in the daily Inquilab of alleged remarks criticizing Islam made during a private seminar. The apex court reports a statement by his counsel that the statements ascribed to Dr. Sharif had been distorted by Inquilab.

Jamaat i Islami (JI) and Islami Oikkyo Jote (IOJ), publicly denounce particular individuals and communities as murtads or apostates, and issues calls for public execution.

Section 99A CrPC is invoked to prescribe book verses from sufi mystic Lalon Fakir.

Case brought in court to stop publication of the Ahmadi community book regarding Islam e Nabuat, then in its tenth edition and in continuous circulation for 40 years .

A private lawyer seeks declaration from High Court that Ahmadiyas were non-Muslims. In support of his application he refers to actions taken in Pakistan, as well as to the constitutional provisions regarding Islam as state religion (Article 2A) and the State’s endeavour to strengthen fraternal relations with Muslim countries (Article 25(2)). The High Court rules that in absence of Shariat Court in Bangladesh, it was not required to discuss Pakistani decisions. It also stated that Constitution of Bangladesh ‘has not empowered the Government to decide or declare who is Muslim and who is not’ and ‘ … the Government has no obligation or power to decide or declare any persons or group of persons as non-Muslims in order to safeguard sanctity of [the] State religion’.

Taslima Nasreen releases ‘Lajja’ (Shame), a novel set in the backdrop of post-Ayodhya retaliation communal riots in Bangladesh. The last sentence of the book shows the Hindu protagonist of family leaving Bangladesh for India. The government immediately bans the book. Militant Islamist groups announce a bounty on her head.

Motiur Rahman Nizami, Secretary General of the Jamaat i Islami, tables in Parliament a ‘blasphemy bill’. Modelled on existing Pakistani laws, this proposes addition of two new sections, 295B and 295C, to the Penal Code, creating new offences of ‘insult to the Koran’ and ‘insult to the Prophet’, respectively carrying maximum sentences of life imprisonment and death.

Fatwa against Noorjaran calls for her waist-deep burial and stone pelting, ultimately resulting in her death. Over the next decade, 240 cases of fatwa against rural women, and 1,750 fatwa-related incidents against NGOs are reported by press and rights organizations.

A previously unknown group called Shahaba Sainik Parishad in Sylhet announces a bounty on Nasreen’s head. Nasreen’s passport is seized, but she later receives a new passport and flies to Paris.

Islamist groups organize street demonstrations followed by physical attacks on Ahmadiyas.

Taslima Nasreen gives interview to Indian TV channel, where she allegedly calls for revision of the Qur’an to ensure women’s rights. A firestorm of controversy ensues, including death threats, national strikes, and court cases . Nasreen goes into hiding.

New groups such as Touhidi Jonota Jamat reach national spotlight through their anti-Nasreen programs and censure in Parliament. Nasreen eventually flees the country and has been in exile since.

Humayan Azad’s book ‘Nari’ (Woman), is banned by the government because of chapters analyzing religious doctrine that imposes chauvinism on women. The ban is lifted in 2000, following a legal battle Azad won in the High Court .

The Lalon Fakir case reaches the courts in Dr. (Homeo) Baba Jahangir Beiman al-Shuresari v State and Sadruddin Ahmad Chishty v Bangladesh and others .

Anjuman e Ahmadiyya Case, supra, per Sultan Hossain Khan J. declares ‘The petitioner’s [submission that] Ahmadiyyas also being Muslim, the order stating that the book has not outraged the feelings of the Muslims’ is not correct. The decision is upheld by the High Court in Sadruddin Ahmed Chishty v Bangladesh . Anjuman e Ahmadiyya decision was not reported in the DLR until 1993, although the judgment itself was delivered some 7 years earlier in 1986.

The Khatib of Baitul Mokarram, national government mosque, is charged under section 501 BPC after he declared that those who had supported the 1971 liberation struggle were ‘gaddars'(traitors). He was ultimately acquitted.

In case regarding banning of books containing baul verses (Sadruddin Ahmad Chishty case), apex court holds that the notification need not indicate the reasons for the satisfaction of the government .

Late 1990s
New draft legislation is discussed to declare Ahmadiyas as non-Muslim.

Nasreen releases volume 1 of her autobiography, ‘Amar Meyebela’ (My Girlhood), in India. Bangladesh government bans the book from being imported, sold or distributed.

Four senior editors of Jonokontho are sued on blasphemy charges in “Shamsuddin Ahmed and others v The

High Court declares issuing of fatwas illegal on January 1st. Militants begin nationwide strikes. In ferocious street battles, seven people die and a police constable is lynched. The chairman and secretary general of Islami Oikya Jote are arrested on charge of fomenting the lynching– but after election victory of BNP at the end of the year, the IOJ is invited to join the coalition government. The Supreme Court stays the High Court decision for an indefinite period, bringing street protests to an end.

Sedition cases brought against journalists Shahriar Kabir, Saleem Samad and Priscilla Raj.

Delwar Hossain Sayeedi of Jamaat e Islami announces that all statues, except those worshipped by non-Muslims, should be demolished. He also says “courts won’t be allowed to control Fatwas, instead Fatwas would control the courts.”

Police told to confiscate all copies of volume 2 of Nasreen’s autobiography ‘Utal Hawa’ (Wild Wind), after Home Ministry declared its publication, sale and distribution illegal. Indian edition is seized under section 99A CrPC– the ban extends to future editions published from Dhaka Currently pending cases include Mesbahuddin Ahmed v Bangladesh and others .

Bangladesh Censor Board bans Tareque and Catherine Masud’s film ‘Matir Moina’ (Clay Bird), because its’ madrasa setting in 1971 is deemed religiously sensitive. A week later, the film becomes the first film from Bangladesh to be invited to Cannes, where it wins the International Critics’ Award. Masud, himself a former madrasa student, vigorously defends the film in the local press. After taking their case to the Appeal Board, the ban is lifted and the film is released to wide viewership in Bangladesh.

Members of an amateur theatre group in Faridpur, a number of whom were prominent in the local Hindu community, were arrested for ‘causing hurt to religious sentiment’ under section 295A BPC, regarding their dramatization of a play.

A national campaign to declare the Ahmadiya Muslim jamaat as non-Muslim is spearheaded by Khatme Nabuwat Andolon, which includes members of Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ), a partner of the ruling BNP-Jamaat coalition.

Ahmadis face ‘excommunication’, ‘house arrest’ and occupation of their homes. One Ahmadi Imam is killed, and several others are beaten and assaulted.

A day before the declared ultimatum to declare Ahmadiyas as non-Muslim, the government bans all publications of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat

Abdul Mannan MP prepares a private member’s bill on dhormo obomanona
(insult to religion) but is reportedly persuaded by a fellow MP of the ruling BNP party not to table this in Parliament. The Bill provided that any speech, or gesture, by words or otherwise, or any picture, film or artwork, or behaviour, which insults any religion, or which insults the Qur’an, Sunnah or Islamic Shariat, would be punishable by two years’ imprisonment.

Ain-o-Salish Kendra, Shonmilito Shamajik Andolon, Mohila Porishod and Naripokkho issue a legal notice on the government threatening a constitutional challenge to the ban on Ahmadiyya publications.

Humayun Azad is savagely attacked by machete wielding attackers outside the annual Ekushe Book Fair. After drifting near-death in hospital, the writer recovers. Following repeated death threats, Azad leaves for Germany where he is found dead in his room.

The High Court declares a temporary stay order on the ban on Ahmadiya books, but does not repeal it.

Case initiated by Mohd Rafiqul Islam Rony MP against Prof. Ali Asghar for causing hurt to religious sentiment, regarding his alleged remarks that religious instruction need not be compulsory.

‘Matir Moina’ becomes first Bangladeshi film to be officially released in India, ending a 30 year unofficial “ban” on reciprocal film releases between Bangladesh and India.

Cartoon appears in the satire magazine ‘Alpin’ (Pin), depicting a conversation between a maulvi and a young boy. In the final panel, the little boy calls his cat “Mohammad Biral” (Mohammad Cat). Cartoonist Arifur Rahman is arrested and editor Sumanta Aslam is fired. Dhaka district magistrate orders suspension of the magazine’s publication.

Hizbut Tahrir leads campaign demanding closure of Alpin’s parent newspaper, Prothom Alo. At that time, Prothom Alo is the country’s largest circulation paper, and a frequent critic of the Islamists. The move comes at a time when the Information Ministry is headed by Barrister Mainul Hossein, owner of Ittefaq, one of Prothom Alo’s rival newspapers.

Government bans Eid issue of weekly Shaptahik 2000, because of an autobiographical article written by Daud Haider with a blasphemous reference.

-Rumi Ahmed


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