Bangladesh arrests popular satirist for anti-govt posts

DHAKA (AFP) - A popular satirical writer has been arrested in Bangladesh for posting articles poking fun at the government, an official said Friday (Dec 11), hours after a three-week ban on Facebook for security reasons was lifted.

Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) officers detained Refayet Ahmed on Thursday (Dec 10) night under the country's controversial Internet law for posting pieces on Facebook, the elite force's spokesman Major Rumman Mahmud said.

"He was arrested for his provocative Facebook posts against the government and the state," Mahmud told AFP.

The RAB accuses Ahmed of writing under a penname for a page called "Moja Losss?" ("Are You Making Fun?") which has won popularity for taking a satirical look at Bangladesh's conservative society as well as rampant corruption and law and order problems.

But the page, with nearly 700,000 fans, also mocked the government's decision last month to ban Facebook and mobile messaging services WhatsApp and Viber for security reasons.

The government lifted the Facebook ban on Thursday (Dec 10), although many users had already managed to circumvent the blockade, but continues to bar WhatsApp and Viber.

The government fears the apps will be used to mobilise large numbers of opposition protesters, triggering unrest in a country already reeling from deadly attacks by suspected Islamist militants.

The bans were originally ordered after two opposition leaders lost an appeal and were hanged last month for war crimes committed during Bangladesh's 1971 independence conflict against Pakistan.

Ahmed was due to appear in a court in Dhaka on Friday (Dec 11) after the police filed an initial case against him of abuse of the Internet.

Under the Internet Act, any person who deliberately publishes material deemed to hurt religious beliefs, offend the state or damage law and order can be jailed for 14 years.

The law has been used to imprison several high-profile journalists and social media users in the Muslim-majority nation in recent months.

The UN's rapporteur on freedom of religion in September warned that the law would have a "chilling effect" on society.

The arrest triggered a sharp reaction on social media. "This is not fair... as far I know they (the posts) are not anti-government... But they are strongly anti-corruption," "Moja Losss?" fan Rois Mahmud wrote on Facebook.