Bangladesh’s largest bookfair began in Dhaka on Wednesday with police warning organisers against selling books that hurt “religious sentiment” in the Muslim-majority country.
But the fair has incurred the wrath of Islamist extremists who hacked and critically injured a top secular writer in 2004 and killed a US-based atheist blogger moments after he signed books for readers in 2015.
Last year a 73-year-old publisher was arrested and his stall at the fair was shut down after a book called ‘Islam Debate’ triggered protests by Islamists who said the work was offensive to Muslims.
Police said they have tightened security for the annual fair, which is being organised at a park on the campus of Dhaka University, the country’s main secular bastion.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia visited the fairground on Tuesday, asking the authorities to “scrutinise” the books before they are cleared to be displayed at stalls.
“Therefore no book hurts civic, social and religious values,” Mia said, according to a statement posted on the DMP’s website. “Hurting religious sentiment is a punishable offence.” The Dhaka police chief offered “special security” to writers and publishers and said that the park, except for the fairground, would be vacated by late afternoon as part of a series of safety measures.
There was no immediate comment from the Bangla Academy, a state-run publisher and research-based organisation which has been organising the event for several decades.
Bangladesh has been reeling from a wave of attacks by Islamist extremists who have killed some 80 people, including around a dozen secular bloggers and writers.
Police say the writers were targeted for their blogs or books, which were critical of Islam or the Prophet Mohammed. Many of these attacks have been claimed by the ISIL group or a local wing of Al-Qaeda.
But Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s secular government has blamed local militants denying that international extremists have gained any foothold in the country.—Agencies