September 21, 2007
DHAKA (AFP) — Street clashes broke out in Bangladesh Friday as Islamic activists defied emergency rule to protest over the publication in a major newspaper of a cartoon deemed offensive to Muslims.
Thousands of protesters joined the rally in the centre of the capital Dhaka, an AFP photographer at the scene said, even though demonstrations are strictly prohibited under the country's eight-month-old state of emergency.
Police baton-charged some of the activists as they tried to break through barricades put up to prevent them reaching the offices of Prothom Alo, the newspaper that published the cartoon and Bangladesh's biggest daily paper.
Demonstrators chanted slogans demanding the execution of newspaper editor Matiur Rahman and burned effigies of him and copies of the Bengali-language daily.
"More than 9,000 people protested against the cartoon in front of the national mosque and tried to march to the Prothom Alo office," said a police official speaking on condition of anonymity.
A doctor at the city's main hospital said five people had been treated for "very minor" injuries.
The cartoon appeared in Prothom Alo's weekly satirical magazine "Alpin."
Its cartoonist, Arisur Rahman, 23, was detained earlier this week and later remanded in custody by a court.
Matiur Rahman on Thursday apologised for the cartoon, which showed a small boy adding the name Mohammed to the name of a cat.
International press freedom body Reporters Without Borders called for the immediate release of the cartoonist.
The protests came as Bangladesh's military-backed emergency government seized copies of another magazine for allegedly insulting Islam.
"The government has banned the Eid issue of the Bengali language weekly magazine Shaptahik 2000 for publishing an autobiographical article where the writer desecrated the holy shrine Mecca," said Shahenur Mia, senior information officer at the home affairs ministry.
Mia declined to elaborate, but the Daily Inqilab newspaper said the author, Daud Haider, who has lived in Germany for 30 years, compared Mecca to a brothel in India.
"The government has ordered the seizure of all copies of this issue of the magazine," added Mia.
Bangladesh, with a population of 144 million, is the world's third-largest Muslim-majority country. It has been under emergency rule since January 11 after elections were cancelled over vote-rigging allegations and an army-backed government took power.
The temporary government has promised to reinstate democracy by holding fresh elections in late 2008 after cleaning up the nation's corrupt politics. Last month Reporters Without Borders criticised the government for being heavy handed towards the media.
It said its record had been "badly marred" by censorship and violence by security forces against journalists during a spate of unrest.