Bangladesh ex-minister surrenders after calling Haj 'waste of manpower'

Activists of a Bangladeshi Islamic political group protest against Abdul Latif Siddique, the then telecommunications minister, after his criticism of the Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj, in Dhaka on Oct 2, 2012. Mr Siddique surrendered to Bangladesh p
Activists of a Bangladeshi Islamic political group protest against Abdul Latif Siddique, the then telecommunications minister, after his criticism of the Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj, in Dhaka on Oct 2, 2012. Mr Siddique surrendered to Bangladesh police Tuesday after Islamists staged protests nationwide calling for his arrest and prosecution over remarks criticising the annual Muslim Haj pilgrimage. -- PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - An influential ex-minister surrendered to Bangladesh police Tuesday after Islamists staged protests nationwide calling for his arrest and prosecution over remarks criticising the annual Muslim Haj pilgrimage.

Abdul Latif Siddique's surrender came a day after Islamists gave an ultimatum to detain him after he returned home Sunday following a long stay in India and the United States where he called the Muslim ritual Haj a "waste" of manpower.

The accused "surrendered to police at 1:20 pm (3.20pm Singapore time) today and now he is being taken to a court", Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Masudur Rahman told AFP.

Siddique's remarks triggered widespread protests across the Muslim-majority nation in September, with Islamists demanding his immediate dismissal from the cabinet of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and his prosecution for "hurting their feelings".

Some groups have even demanded his execution.

Hasina fired Siddique from the post of telecommunications minister while he was still in the United States.

Local courts also issued more than a dozen arrest warrants against him for "wounding religious sentiments" of Muslims.

Siddique spoke out against the Haj pilgrimage, and a non-political Islamic group, the Tablig Jamaat, at a rally in New York.

Local television aired footage of Siddique telling Bangladeshi expatriates in New York that, "I am dead against the Haj and the Tablig Jamaat".

"Two million people have gone to Saudi Arabia to perform Haj. Haj is a waste of manpower. Those who perform Haj do not have any productivity," he said in the televised footage.

"They (Haj pilgrims) deduct from the economy, spend a lot of money abroad," he said.

As footage of his speeches were shown on television, hardline Islamist group Hefajat-e-Islam declared him "an apostate".

He has refused to apologise for his comments on the Haj - a pilgrimage he performed in 1998, according to Bangladeshi dailies.

In 1994, similar protests by Islamists forced author Taslima Nasreen, a self-declared atheist, to seek exile abroad. Nasreen now lives in India.