The arrest of three people during a book fair in Bangladesh Monday may be an indication that Islamist violence and intimidation, sadly, can work.
Publisher Shamsuzzoha Manik could face as much as 14 years in prison if convicted of violating Bangladesh's Information and Communication Technology Act by selling books which might offend Muslims. Two of Manik's associates also were arrested, and police shut down their booth at the annual Dhaka book fair. They are being held for questioning.
One of the books, Islam Bitorko (Islam Debate), has a chapter described as focusing on sexual perversion in Muslim thought.
"We've read the book and found that it has gravely hurt religious sentiments," Deputy Police Commissioner Abdul Baten said. More than 80 copies of the book were seized Monday.
Other books seized include one about Mohammad's teaching on jihad, one on women's roles in Islam and one on atheism versus theism.
Their presence directly defied organizers' instructions "not to showcase such controversial books in the fair stalls which would hurt people's religious sentiments, Shamsuzzaman Khan, director of the Bangla Academy, the sponsor of the book fair, told Agence France Presse. "It was an unforgivable crime."
Bangladesh is supposed to be a secular state that follows a form of British common law. But in arresting Manik and his colleagues, the state is imposing blasphemy laws on commercial publishing. This crackdown on "offensive" books comes after a half-dozen Bangladeshi writers were murdered by Islamists in 2015. That includes American Avijit Roy, who was hacked to death during last year's Dhaka book fair.
It also follows an open threat by a group calling itself Khelafat Andolon (Caliphate Movement) that it would attack the book fair if Manik was not arrested, AFP reported.
Roy, like the others who fell victim to the Islamist violence, faced direct threats before they were murdered. But they refused to yield to the intimidation and vowed to continue their free-thinking and critical analysis toward religion.
Monday's arrests only make Islamist threats more potent and add to the chilling effect on free speech for Bangladesh's people.