A top Sufi folk singer widely popular as Baul has been arrested under the controversial Digital Security Act that critics say is used to stifle free speech after alleged anti-Islam comments triggered protests, police said.
The arrested Sufi Baul is Shariat Sarker, 40, who was arrested over a complaint of "hurting the religious sentiment of Muslims" in Mirzapur city on Saturday, Mirzapur Police station OC Saidur Rahman said on Monday.An Islamic scholar filed a case against Shariat Sarker over comments made at a show in December, Saidur Rahman said, adding that a local court on Sunday remanded him to three days' custody.
"We arrested him after Islamic cleric Maulana Faridul Islam filed a case against him," said Saidur Rahman.
In the show, Baul Shariat Sarkar told his audiences that singing is not ‘Haram’ (Strictly prohibited) in Islam. There is no verse in the Quran or Hadith that suggested singing was made forbidden.
Throwing a challenge to some Islamic scholars, he announced Tk 50 lakh reward if anyone can prove that Islam had made singing forbidden.
Last week, hundreds of people in Mymensingh and Mirzapur protested Baul Shariat Sarkar’s comments and challenge accusing him of defamation of Islam and demanded his arrest.
OC Saidur Rahman said a 59-minute video of the show uploaded on YouTube has also been removed.Shariat Sarker could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty at the trial.
Journalists and rights activists say the Digital Security Act passed in 2018 is a serious threat to freedom of expression of the countrymen.
Under the Act, anyone can face a life jail term for "propaganda" against the nation and up to 10 years for digital content that "hurts religious sentiments" or "creates unrest".
In May last year, poet Henry Swapan was arrested in Barishal under the Act for hurting religious sentiments. He was later granted bail.
Odhikar, a rights group, reported at least 29 arrests last year (2019) under the stringent law.
Artists express concern
Shariat Sarker is well known among the tens of millions of Sufi followers in rural Bangladesh.
Nikhil Das, president of Charan Cultural Centre, a platform for folk singers in Bangladesh, demanded an unconditional release of Shariat Sarkar.
"He only said [the] Quran did not prohibit the practice of music," he told media, adding that the singer was targeted for being vocal against using religion as a political tool.
"We, the folk singers, want our freedom to exercise our cultural practices. Shariat Sarkar's arrest has created fear amongst us," said Nikhil Das.
Music expert Saymon Zakaria said folk singers regularly take liberties when interpreting Islamic legends in a way that may not reflect the official version.
"There should not be literal interpretations of what is said during a performance. Folk singers must have freedom of expression," Zakaria said.
Despite holding a prominent place in Bangladesh's history, more than a dozen Sufi leaders and followers have been killed in recent years by Islamist groups who consider them heretics.