Fanatics in Bangladesh use Facebook to stoke communal tension, again

Facebook has been used as a tool to spread communal unrest yet again in Bangladesh, this time in Cumilla city.

Meherun Naher Meghla Staff
Published : 13 Oct 2021, 07:04 PM
Updated : 13 Oct 2021, 07:06 PM

Religious fanatics shared photos and videos of an incident in which the Quran was allegedly besmirched on Wednesday as they called on Muslims to attack Hindus amid Durga Puja celebrations.

The authorities deployed border guards along with police as vandals attacked some temple areas and clashed with law enforcers.

The government also warned against any attempt to instigate one community against another.

Telecoms Minister Mustafa Jabbar said steps were taken to take down the Facebook posts as tensions simmered after a photo of the Quran at a temple began circulating.

Another post containing a video of a man, said to be the officer-in-charge of a police station, with a Quran in his hand, was also doing the rounds. In the video, another man is heard shouting that the OC recovered the Quran from the temple. could not independently verify the photo and the video that were still available on the social media platform at night.

Many online activists questioned the authenticity of the incident, calling for calm and criticising Facebook and Bangladesh authorities for their failure to take down the posts.  

Minister Jabbar said they were maintaining communication with the Facebook authorities after noticing the posts. “We’ve requested the removal of more than 100 Facebook links. We hope they will be blocked soon.”

He said the government also limited internet access in Cumilla to stop any disinformation campaign.

The government took steps to remove the posts from other social media platforms as well, according to him. "We are more capable of controlling disinformation campaigns now than ever before because we’ve taken immediate steps this time.”

Facebook posts had been at the centre of similar tensions earlier in Cumilla and other parts of Bangladesh. The social media platform had also been used to spread hatred on those occasions.

Supporters of the radical group Hifazat-e Islam attacked and looted homes of Hindus at a village in Sunamganj’s Shalla in March over a Facebook post criticising their leader Mamunul Haque, which they claimed was an insult to Islam.

Angry Muslims also vandalised and burned several homes of Hindu people over rumours about an alleged Facebook post slandering Islam in Cumilla’s Muradnagar in November last year.

Similar incidents occurred in Cumilla’s Homna and Muradpur, Pabna’s Santhia and Satkhira’s Fatehpur.

In October 2019, a Facebook account was hacked to spread a religious slur that ignited the violence, leaving four people dead and over 100 others injured in Bhola’s Borhanuddin Upazila, police said.

Agitated Muslims had also clashed with police in Bhola again in May 2020 after attacking a Hindu man’s shop over his social media post that allegedly hurt religious sentiments.

In Rangpur, at least one person was killed and seven were 'critically' injured as police opened fire on locals who torched nine Hindu homes in protest against an allegedly blasphemous Facebook post in November 2017.

Hindu temples and homes in Brahmanbaria’s Nasirnagar came under attack over a Facebook post purporting to insult Islam in Brahmanbaria’s Nasirnagar in November 2016.

In one of the earliest such incidents of violence, Buddhist pagodas and homes were torched in Cox's Bazar's Ramu in 2012.

Law enforcers are taking steps to prevent the spread of communal hatred on social media centred on the latest incident in Cumilla, an official at the police's Cyber Crime Unit said.

“Anyone trying to spread rumours on social media will be brought to justice immediately.”

Nirmal Kumar Chatterjee, general secretary of Bangladesh Puja Udjapon Parishad, said no Hindus were found to be responsible for such incidents in Bangladesh in the past. “It (Cumilla incident) has been done in a planned way.”

He said the Parishad always reports to Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission whenever it notices Facebook posts purporting to spread communal hatred.

In an emergency notice later in the day, the religious affairs ministry said it had come across news that the central religious text of Islam had been 'disrespected' in Cumilla.

But the ministry urged members of the public not to take the law into their own hands over the incident. It also reiterated calls to maintain religious harmony and peace.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said he suspects the Cumilla incident was an act of sabotage.

Meanwhile, Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader said the perpetrators behind the incident will not be spared, regardless of their political affiliation.

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