DHAKA (AFP) – An influential Bangladesh ex-minister surrendered to police and was jailed Tuesday after conservatives staged nationwide protests calling for his arrest and prosecution over remarks criticising the annual Muslim Haj pilgrimage.
Abdul Latif Siddique’s surrender came a day after conservatives gave an ultimatum to detain him after he returned home Sunday following a long stay in India and the United States where he called the Muslim ritual Haj a “waste” of manpower.
The accused “surrendered to police” early Tuesday afternoon, Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Masudur Rahman told AFP. Dhaka’s Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s court then “sent him to jail as he did not seek bail”, public prosecutor Abdullah Abu told AFP. Wild protests erupted at the court as hundreds of people, including lawyers, hurled abuse at the ex-minister, television footage showed. Some demonstrators waved sandals and shoes at him – regarded as a serious gesture of disrespect in the Muslim world.
Siddique’s remarks triggered widespread protests across the Muslim-majority nation in September, with conservatives demanding his dismissal from the cabinet of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and his prosecution for “hurting their feelings”. Some groups have even demanded his execution.
Hasina fired Siddique from the post of telecommunications minister while he was still in the United States. Local courts issued more than a dozen arrest warrants against him for “wounding religious sentiments” of Muslims.
Siddique spoke out against the Haj pilgrimage, and a non-political Islamic group, the Tablig Jamaat, at a rally in New York. Television footage showed Siddique telling Bangladeshi expatriates in New York that, “I am dead against the Haj and the Tablig Jamaat”.
“Two million people have gone to Saudi Arabia to perform Haj. Haj is a waste of manpower. Those who perform Haj do not have any productivity,” he said in the televised proceedings.