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Bangladesh Christian poet arrested over writing on priests

May 14, 2019

Police in southern Bangladesh arrested a prominent poet Tuesday after he was accused of hurting the religious feelings of the country’s minority Christian community, police said.

Henry Sawpon, a Christian himself, was detained in Barisal, south of the capital Dhaka, after a priest filed a case against him for a series of defamatory writings about the clergy.

“He was arrested under the country’s digital security law for hurting religious sentiments of the Christian community,” Barisal Metropolitan Police commissioner Shahabuddin Khan told AFP.

Sawpon, whose poems and rhymes are regularly published in leading Bangladesh newspapers and magazines, was sent to jail after a court rejected his bail application.

Police said Sawpon had posted slanderous remarks against Barisal’s Catholic fathers on his Facebook profile since 2016. He also accused the city’s Bishop of embezzling funds.

Days before his arrest, Sawpon told local media that two unidentified men entered his home after midnight and threatened to kill him if he did not stop writing against his community.

The poet faces a maximum 14 years in jail if found guilty under the controversial digital security law which was passed last year and has been slammed as “draconian” by media rights groups in Bangladesh and abroad.

Rights groups expressed concern that the law would be used to curb freedom of expression and a crackdown on dissent.

Last August top journalist and activist Shahidul Alam was arrested during massive student protests in the capital Dhaka for making “false” and “provocative” statements on Al Jazeera and Facebook Live.

He is being investigated for allegedly violating Bangladesh’s already stringent internet laws enacted in 2006.

Christians make up less than one percent of Bangladesh’s 165 million people, but have lived for centuries mostly in harmony with the local Muslim majority.

They have played a prominent role in the country’s history and even today, schools and hospitals run by Catholic missionaries provide a lifeline for poor communities.

Barisal’s Christian community is one of the oldest in the Muslim majority nation.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.