SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: November 08, 2013

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):University of Dhaka

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Bangladesh

New or Ongoing:New Incident

Subrata Adhikari Shuvo, a master’s student in the Bengali department at the University of Dhaka, faces blasphemy charges for allegedly making derogatory comments about Islam in a personal blog in the spring of 2013.
On April 1, 2013, authorities entered Shuvo’s university dorm room, seized his laptops, mobile phones and other devices, and arrested him.  In addition to Shuvo, three other bloggers were arrested between March 31 and April 1, 2013 for allegedly inflammatory and/or blasphemous blog posts.  The arrests occurred amid a larger government crackdown against bloggers, whom government and religious authorities accused of blasphemy against Islam; immediately before the arrests, clerics submitted a list of 84 bloggers to the government for allegedly posting “derogatory comments about religion”. 
Shuvo had criticized the media in posts on his personal blog, in connection to what he believed was their failure to fight discrimination against Buddhists and Hindus. In addition, he had often criticized politicians for being biased toward Islamist views and ideologies in a constitutionally secular country.
Shuvo was detained until May 12, 2013, when he was released on bail.  On September 8, 2013, he and the other three bloggers were charged, under Section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology Act, with the crime of hurting religious sentiment.  A trial was set for November 8, 2013, but as of this report, no verdict has been reported.  If convicted, Shuvo and those indicted alongside him face a sentence of ten years in prison.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the wrongful arrest, detention and prosecution of individuals — and in particular academic personnel — engaged in the non-violent exercise of protected human rights, including freedom of expression. Such attacks raise particular concerns when they occur on campus, thus undermining institutional autonomy.   In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.