Police to scrutinise books at Ekushey Book Fair
Adil Sakhawat

Police will scrutinise books being released in the upcoming Ekushy Book Fair to determine whether any of them carry any content that may hurt “religious sentiments,” as a part of “security measures.”

  • Police in 2016 Ekushey Book Fair banned a book published by Ba-Dwip Prokashani for hurting "religious sentiment", shut down it's outlet in the fair and arrested the publisher 
    Photo- Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

While revealing this, which may come as a shock to many who believe freedom of speech is a fundamental and constitutional right, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia cited a section of penal code and the controversial ICT Act supporting the move. 

“According to the penal code …, if one’s speech or activities attack others’ religious beliefs and leads to a communal clash, then he or she cannot be considered a freethinker. Our Information and Communication Technology Act does not permit such activities either …”

Urging the Bangla Academy to take the lead in the scrutinising process, Asaduzzaman said: “Bangla Academy and the association of authors and publishers at the book fair should lead in scrutinising whether the books on sale contain elements that hurt the people’s religious sentiments, deprive them of their basic rights, and trigger communal flare-ups."

File photo of DMP Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia
The fair is set to start on the Bangla Academy and adjacent Suhrawardy Udyan premises on Wednesday, and DMP has set up multi-layer security measures at and around the venues.

Describing the measures, the DMP commissioner said they have set up three control rooms and brought the area under blanket surveillance through CCTVs.

Apart from the main venue, stalls have been set up at Suhrawardy Udyan which has already been fenced off, where security personnel will be present in both uniforms and plain clothes.

To enter the venues, visitors will have to undergo a four-tier security check at entry points in TSC, Shahbagh, Doyel Chattar and Nilkhet areas.

There will be a patrol team in the area to avert unwanted incidents, the official said, adding: “Separate entry and exit gates have been made to check harassment of female visitors.” 

In December last year, Bangla Academy banned five publishing houses from the fair for the next two years and reduced the stall size for 15 others for alleged breach of guidelines.

Shrabon Prokashani was banned from the fair for protesting against the closure of Ba-Dwip Prakashan stall and the arrest of its proprietor writer Shamsuzoha Manik last year for selling a translated book titled Islam Bitarka (The Islam Debate), originally published in 2013, that allegedly hurt the religious sentiments of the Muslims.

Also Read- Book fair stall shut down by police

Five other books were also seized.

In a BBC Bangla interview right after the incident, Bangla Academy Director General Shamsuzzaman Khan defended Manik’s arrest and the closure of the stall because of the “obscenity” of the book. To prove that it was obscene, he proposed that the BBC “send someone and I will read to him.”

Four other publishing houses – Rangin Phool, Oikya Prakashani, Neel Pari Prakashani, and Ba-Dwip Prakashan – were banned on charge of selling pirated books.

In 2015, the Bangla Academy authorities shut down the stall of Rodela Prokashani for publishing and selling a translated book titled Twenty Three Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad at the book fair after radical Islamists groups including Hefazat-e-Islam raised objection.

The religious fanatics have been demanding formulation of anti-blasphemy law to try atheists and secularists who defame Islam since 2013, primarilly targeting the youths who organised a massive movement at Shahbagh in February the same year demanding capital punishment for all war criminals.

Meanwhile, a new militant group named Ansarullah Bangla Team emerged the same year and has so far killed a dozen secularist writer, publisher, teachers and LGBT rights activists.

Science writer and Mukto-Mona blog founder Avijit Roy was killed and his wife Rafida Ahmed Bonya critically injured in a machete attack by Ansarullah men at TSC intersection when they were returning from the book fair on February 26, 2015. The couple came to Dhaka few days back to take part in the book fair.

In the next six months, the members of Ansarullah, later named as Ansar al-Islam, killed three of Avijit's followers in Dhaka and Sylhet. Ansar al-Islam is the Bangladesh chapter of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).

On October 31, two teams of the outfit carried out simultaneous attacks on Avijit's publishers in Dhaka.

Jagriti Prokashoni owner Faisal Arefin Dipan was hacked to death at his Shahbagh office in the afteroon. On the other hand, Shuddhashar publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul was attacked when he was working at his Lalmatia office with two writers – Ranadipam Basu and Tareq Rahim. The trio narrowly escaped death, and later left the country.

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