Bangladesh mayor arrested for refusing mural of PM’s father

Many people have been charged for defaming Sheikh Mujibur Rahman under the country’s notorious internet laws.

A banner with a picture of Bangladesh's founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in Dhaka [File: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]

A Bangladesh mayor who has refused to permit a mural depicting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s father on religious grounds has been arrested, police say.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was independent Bangladesh’s first leader and since his daughter took power in 2009, authorities have erected more than 1,000 murals and monuments to venerate him.

Dozens of people have also been charged for defaming him under the country’s notorious internet laws, which rights groups say have been used by Hasina to silence dissent.

Abbas Ali, the mayor of western Rajshahi city, found himself in the spotlight last month after an audio clip of his comments against a proposed Mujib mural went viral.

“This is not correct according to Islamic sharia,” he had said. “That’s why I won’t keep it. I will build everything as it’s planned, except for this last part.”

Doctrinal traditions forbid depictions of people in murals or statues as part of the religion’s restrictions against idolatry.

The mayor’s comments triggered protests in his home town. He initially claimed the clip was fake, but later apologised on Facebook and fled town.

Police arrested Ali from a hotel in the capital Dhaka on Wednesday, spokesman Khandaker Al Moin told the AFP news agency.

“He admitted he made the comment. He was absconding in different hotels in Dhaka since November 23. We had information that he’s planning to flee the country,” he added.

The case follows last month’s sacking by Hasina of Zahagir Alam, the mayor of the industrial city of Gazipur after he allegedly defamed Rahman.

Alam and Ali were members of Hasina’s ruling Awami League party.

Mujib led his country to independence from Pakistan in 1971 after a horrific nine-month war that Bangladesh says killed as many as three million and displaced many more.

He was assassinated four years later along with most of his family.

Under his daughter, Hasina, 74, activists say the human rights situation in Bangladesh has deteriorated sharply, with clampdowns on free expression that have seen hundreds of journalists and activists arrested.

Hasina’s main political opposition has been crippled with its chief and her archrival Khaleda Zia jailed for corruption.

Source: AFP