DHAKA: Thousands protested against police across Bangladesh yesterday, a day after at least four people died when officers fired on a crowd in one of the country’s deadliest religious riots to date. Some 20,000 Muslims called for the execution of a young Hindu man on Bhola island Sunday for writing Facebook messages that allegedly defamed the Prophet Mohammed, with police saying they opened fire after rocks were thrown at officers.

Four people died and nearly 50 were injured, with at least seven in a critical condition in hospital. Mob attacks over online posts perceived to be blasphemous have emerged as a major headache for security forces in Bangladesh, where Muslims make up some 90 percent of the country’s 168 million people. The deaths sparked a new round of protests late Sunday and yesterday as thousands of Muslims across several cities shouted slogans and called for the officers involved to be put on trial.
“This is not acceptable. Police have illegally and unconstitutionally opened fire on the protesters,” 22-year-old madrasa student Mahmudul Hasan told AFP at a rally in the capital Dhaka. “It is an extrajudicial killing. We seek justice.” The Hindu man whose Facebook account hosted the original messages and is from Bhola, was charged with inciting religious tension. But Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for calm Sunday and said the man’s Facebook account was hacked by a Muslim person and used to “spread lies”.

Thousands of protesters who took part in the Bhola protest were being investigated, local police chief Enamul Haque told AFP, adding a police officer was also “fighting for his life” after he was shot by demonstrators. No arrests have yet been made, he added. This is not the first time alleged Facebook posts have sparked large-scale religious violence in the impoverished South Asian country. In 2016, angry Muslims attacked Hindu temples in an eastern town over a Facebook post that allegedly mocked one of Islam’s holiest sites. And in 2012, Muslim mobs torched Buddhist monasteries, houses and shops in the coastal Cox’s Bazar district after a photo of the Quran that was considered defamatory was put online by a young Buddhist.

Bangladesh MP ‘hired lookalikes’

In other news, a Bangladeshi lawmaker has been expelled from university after allegedly hiring as many as eight lookalikes to take exams in her place, officials said Monday. Tamanna Nusrat, from the ruling Awami League party, is accused of paying the lookalikes to pretend to be her in at least 13 tests. The scandal emerged after private broadcaster Nagorik TV entered a test hall and confronted one of the women posing as Nusrat, in a video that went viral.

Nusrat, who was elected to parliament last year, was studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree with the Bangladesh Open University (BOU). “We expelled her because she has committed a crime. A crime is a crime,” BOU head MA Mannan said. “We have cancelled her enrolment. She will never be able to get admitted here again.” “The proxy students were protected by the MP’s musclemen when they sat for the tests. Everybody knew it but nobody uttered a word because she is from a very influential family,” a college official said. Nusrat could not be reached for comment. Test fraud, cheating and leaking of question papers ahead of exams are common in Bangladesh, prompting authorities frequently to cancel results. – AFP