Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bangladesh Frees Cartoonist Arif

Bangladesh frees cartoonist detained on charges of insulting Prophet Muhammad

Source: International Herald Tribune
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 20, 2008

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Bangladeshi authorities on Thursday released a cartoonist from prison where he had been awaiting trial on charges of insulting Islam, officials said.

Prison officials released Mohammed Arifur Rahman on an order from the Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court, said Maj. Shamsul Haider Siddiqui, a deputy inspector general of prisons.

Magistrate Ismat Ara ordered Rahman's release because the police official bringing charges against him repeatedly failed to appear in court, despite several notices, according to Rahman's lawyer, Sara Hossain.

No one opposed an appeal for Rahman's freedom Thursday by his lawyers, the magistrate said in her order.

In a report submitted to the court Thursday, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police said the police official failed to attend the hearings because he has been serving in East Timor as a peacekeeper since November last year.

Rahman and his family could not be immediately reached for comment.

Security officials arrested Rahman on Sept. 18 after hard-line Islamic groups protested over one of his cartoons in the Bengali-language newspaper Prothom Alo, saying the cartoon mocked the Prophet Muhammad.

The Interior Ministry charged Rahman with "hurting the religious sentiments of the people" and detained him for 30 days. His detention was later extended, pending trial.

The government confiscated all copies of Alpin, the Prothom Alo supplement in which the cartoon was printed. The popular daily apologized for publishing the cartoon and fired the cartoonist.

Journalists in Bangladesh are routinely threatened, assaulted or killed for writing about political violence, corruption or organized crime, according to media rights groups. At least 11 journalists have been killed and dozens maimed in the South Asian nation since 1997, media rights groups say.

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