Bangladeshi prime minister rules out blasphemy law

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 April, 2013, 2:52am


Bangladesh's prime minister has ruled out a new blasphemy law despite a mass campaign by Islamists to introduce the death penalty for bloggers whom they accuse of insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

As part of their push for a change in the law, the Hefajat-e-Islam organisation yesterday forced the closure of schools and businesses across the country as part of a general strike.

At least 20 people were injured in Chittagong, a city in southwestern Bangladesh, in clashes between pro-government activists and Islamists, already infuriated by the recent convictions of leading opposition figures for war crimes. Police official Abdullahel Baki said the Hefajat-e-Islam protesters threw stones at police and the ruling party supporters.

Sheikh Hasina, who has been leading a secular government in the Muslim-majority country since 2009, said existing laws were adequate to prosecute anyone accused of insulting a religion.

"Actually, we don't have any plan to [bring in a new law]. We don't need it," Hasina told the BBC in an interview broadcast yesterday.

"They should know that existing laws are enough," she added, before stressing that the "country is a secular democracy".

On Saturday hundreds of thousands of Islamists rallied in the capital, Dhaka, to demand a blasphemy law, with provisions for the death penalty.

There has been debate between atheists and fundamentalists for years, but it took a deadly turn in February when an anti-Islam blogger was murdered.

Additional reporting by Associated Press