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Bangladesh teachers protest penance for 'Islam insult'

Thousand of teachers took to the streets across Bangladesh to protest against a lawmaker’s punishment of a headmaster falsely accused of insulting Islam

Published: Updated:

Thousand of teachers took to the streets across Bangladesh Thursday to protest against a lawmaker’s punishment of a headmaster falsely accused of insulting Islam, after the incident went viral on social media.

Teachers from universities, schools and seminaries held rallies in support of the headmaster after opposition MP Salim Osman ordered him to squat while holding his ears -- a demeaning punishment in the Muslim-majority country.

Shyamol Kanti Bhakta was punished last week in Bandar town, outside Dhaka, in front of hundreds of people after he was falsely accused of making derogatory remarks against Islam.

Criticism of Islam is often incendiary in Bangladesh, which is reeling from a wave of recent killings of secular and liberal activists and religious minorities.

The videoed incident was uploaded onto social media, sparking an outcry and demands for justice for the headmaster. The tag #SorrySir was trending on Twitter and many posted photos of themselves squatting in a show of support.

“The MP has insulted the entire nation by humiliating its builder -- the teacher,” said Shahab Enam Khan, a professor at Jahangirnagar University, during a rally in Dhaka.

“It seems as if the MP has forgotten the difference between a lawmaker and a law enforcer,” Khan told AFP.

Dhaka University pro-vice chancellor Nasreen Ahmed said thousands of teachers were taking part in the protests held in cities and towns “to demand justice for the deplorable incident”.

Bangladesh education minister Nurul Islam Nahid on Thursday reinstated the headmaster and sacked the school’s governing board, which had suspended him over the incident.

“Injustice has been done to the teacher,” the minister said, describing the incident as “shameful”.

However, the lawmaker, from the small opposition Jatiya Party, refused to apologise, saying many had supported his actions.
“Why shall I apologise? Five thousand men gathered and chanted slogans against him (Bhakta). I actually helped him to escape the angry public,” Osman told reporters.