In the latest standoff between Bangladesh's secular government and largely Islamist opposition, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina turned down demands for a new blasphemy law seeking to punish those who defame Islam and the Muslim prophet Mohammad.
"They have demanded it. Actually, we don't have any plan to [bring in the law]. We don't need it. They should know that existing laws are enough," Hasina told the BBC.
Bangladesh "is a secular democracy," she said. "So each and every religion has the right to practice their religion freely and fair. But it is not fair to hurt anybody's religious feeling. Always we try to protect every religious sentiment."
Hundreds of protestors led by the Islamist Hefajat-e-Islam group took to the streets last weekend in what was widely reported as "the long march." The demonstrators had a list of 13 demands that included a call for execution of "atheist" bloggers accused of insulting Islamic beliefs. The government arrested four bloggers last week on charges of defaming Islam.
Despite her stand against any new blasphemy law, Hasina defended the arrests based on existing law. "If anybody tried to hurt any sentiments of any religion or any religious leader … we can take any action," she told the BBC.
The Hefajat-e-Islam is an offshoot of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), an Islamist party that seeks to impose Sharia law in Bangladesh.
The protests are seen as a reprisal against the recent death sentence against Islamists accused in the mass killings and other war crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. It has also been alleged that bloggers critical of opposition Islamist leaders are being targeted.
Arif Jebtik, a high-profile blogger, claimed he was framed by Islamists who allegedly published an anti-Islamic piece under his name. "It was published under my name and with my account. The blog is anti-Islamic and insults the Prophet Mohammad. I fear the blog was posted to frame and criminalize me and also give the Islamists a reason to attack me."