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Bangladesh duo punished for not serving cake on leader’s birthday

The two teachers had hosted a small party to mark the occasion which was broadcast live on Facebook from an Islamic seminary in the country's northwest.

AFP
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Bangladesh's Digital Security Act criminalises 'propaganda' against the 1971 war of independence, the national anthem, the flag and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who has been enshrined in the constitution as the Father of the Nation. Photo: Pexels
Bangladesh's Digital Security Act criminalises 'propaganda' against the 1971 war of independence, the national anthem, the flag and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who has been enshrined in the constitution as the Father of the Nation. Photo: Pexels

A Bangladeshi court ordered two teachers to read a book by the country’s late founding leader after they marked his 100th birthday by serving cheap bread instead of cake, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Both men were charged under the country’s broad digital security law last year as the country celebrated the birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a national independence hero and father of current prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

The pair had hosted a small party to mark the occasion which was broadcast live on Facebook from an Islamic seminary in the country’s northwest, prosecutor Ismat Ara Begum told AFP.

“They cut 10-taka (12-cent) bread on the occasion and distributed the pieces of the bread mockingly to several students,” she said.

Both were found guilty on Tuesday after a court case was filed against them by an official from Hasina’s ruling Awami League party.

They were ordered to read four books – three authored by Rahman, including the leader’s unfinished autobiography – as “probationary punishment”, Begum said.

The court also ordered them to plant 20 trees each and teach their students about the history of Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war.

Abdus Salam, one of the teachers, denied that they mocked Rahman’s birthday when contacted.

“We earlier held prayers in his (Rahman’s) name. But when students wanted to celebrate, we could only find the bread in a local shop as we live in a remote village where good quality cake cannot be found instantly,” the 57-year-old told AFP.

“I did not realise our limitations would offend anyone. Had we realised that we would never go live on Facebook. It was unintentional and we apologised to the court,” he said.

Bangladesh passed a Digital Security Act in 2018 that has been slammed by opposition parties, media outlets and rights groups for silencing criticism of Hasina’s government.

The law criminalises “propaganda” against the 1971 Bangladeshi war of independence, the national anthem, the flag and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who has been enshrined in the constitution as the Father of the Nation.

More than 2,000 cases have been filed under the law since it was enacted, according to Amnesty International, mostly by members of the ruling party.