Bangladesh to monitor social media in 'blasphemy' crackdown

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh announced plans on Thursday to monitor social media networks such as Facebook in a bid to identify bloggers who have been accused of insulting Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.

A special panel is being set up, including leaders of the main intelligence agencies and the telecoms regulator, to exchange information and track down the people behind recent posts that have caused outrage among Islamic groups.

"We will try our best to dig out what's actually happening and find out the people who're making blasphemous comments against Islam and the Prophet," said Mr Main Uddin Khandaker, a senior home ministry official who will head the panel.

"There might be differences in opinion, but that does not mean anyone in the country has the rights to mock others' beliefs,"

Mr Khandaker told AFP, adding that the panel would submit its report to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Islamic groups and clerics have staged a series of protests against blasphemous bloggers in recent weeks and threatened to march to Dhaka next month if they are not prosecuted.

The debate between militant atheists and fundamentalists has been a popular subject in Bangladesh's blogosphere and on social media for years, but it took a deadly turn last month when an alleged anti-Islam blogger was murdered.

Islamic parties and leading clerics have since focused on the writings by other atheist bloggers, calling nationwide strikes in protest and demanding the execution of those they accuse of blasphemy.

At least eight people have killed in the anti-blasphemy protests.

The government has blocked about a dozen websites and blogs to stem the violence, as well as stepping up security for the bloggers, some of whom claim to have been threatened by the student activists of a leading Islamic party.

Police have arrested five students in connection with the killing of the blogger, Mr Ahmed Rajib Haider. The five have admitted that they killed Mr Haider because of his blasphemous writing against the Prophet, according to police.

The killing of Mr Haider was the second attack in Dhaka in less than a month against a blogger critical of Islam and Islamist groups.

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