In Bangladesh, Artists, Intellectuals Defend Musicians Accused of Insulting Islam

Updated at 8:46 p.m. ET on 2021-11-02

A well-known secular activist on Tuesday called on the Bangladesh Bar Council to pull the membership of a lawyer who has been filing police complaints against musicians alleging that their performances insult Islam.

The latest case filed by lawyer Imrul Hasan is against members of the rock band Meghdol, claiming that a song they performed at a recent concert distorted a Muslim prayer.

Robin Ahsan, an activist and book publisher, said Imrul was inciting religious conflict.

“Cancellation of the enrollment of lawyer Imrul Hasan is a must to save our country’s songs, Baul songs and our culture,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

“The manner [in which] he is filing cases one after the other is not a healthy practice at all. Through such activities, the lawyer is inciting religious intolerance,” he said.

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An organizer of a progressive citizens’ group, “Shahbagh against Oppression,” Robin said he and others would take to the streets if their demand was not met.

“If any member of Meghdol becomes the subject of harassment, we will hold demonstrations demanding the arrest of the lawyer,” he said.

Imrul’s earlier police reports against Rita Dewan – a performer of traditional Bengali folk songs – led her to go into hiding after receiving death threats.

“As a lawyer, he [Imrul] has the right to sue on any issue, but such cases violate the spirit of Bangladesh's constitution, as every artist has the freedom to have his or her views,” Golam Quddus, the head of an umbrella group of cultural organizations, told BenarNews.

Other cultural activists supported the band members by creating a hashtag, #standwithmeghdol, for social media platforms.

But Imrul said he stood by his case against Meghdol.

“I feel no pressure from such a protest or social media campaign,” he told BenarNews.

“Why would I feel pressure when I filed cases to do with defamation of Islam in a Muslim-majority country?”

In his police complaint, Imrul said his “religious sentiment” was hurt after listening to a Meghdol song, and that he had tried but failed to communicate his concern to the band. “Om,” the song he referred to, mixes a Hindu hymn with a Muslim one.

In response to the complaint, a Dhaka Metropolitan magistrate instructed the Police Bureau of Investigation to investigate and submit a report by Dec. 1.

Based on Imrul’s earlier police report, a Dhaka tribunal filed charges against Baul singer Dewan and two others on Oct. 25 for allegedly making “derogatory comments” about religion.

In January, Dewan told BenarNews she had been forced into hiding for more than a year after religious zealots threatened to kill her.

“I am in trouble and facing death threats,” she told BenarNews at the time.

“But I will continue to sing because this is not only the source of my income, but also a part of my prayers. I feel the blessings and touch of Allah through my songs, which also teach me to hate no one.”

Imrul said back then that he planned to continue his legal barrage.

“The Bauls make audacious remarks about Allah,” he said.

“Such practices need to be stopped once and for all. I will file more cases to stop this.”

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