Bangladesh ex-minister surrenders after hajj criticism

Influential Bangladesh ex-minister Abdul Latif Siddique called the hajj a ‘waste manpower’ and ‘surrendered to police’ early Tuesday afternoon.

Influential Bangladesh ex-minister Abdul Latif Siddique called the hajj a ‘waste manpower’ and ‘surrendered to police’ early Tuesday afternoon.

An influential Bangladesh ex-minister surrendered to police and was jailed Tuesday after Islamists staged nationwide protests calling for his arrest and prosecution over remarks criticising the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage.

Abdul Latif Siddique’s surrender came a day after Islamists 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 Hajj 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 Islamists 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.

Demanding execution

Local courts issued more than a dozen arrest warrants against him for “wounding religious sentiments” of Muslims.

Siddique spoke out against the Hajj 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 Hajj and the Tablig Jamaat”.

“Two million people have gone to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj. Hajj is a waste of manpower. Those who perform Hajj do not have any productivity,” he said in the televised proceedings.

“They (Hajj pilgrims) deduct from the economy, spend a lot of money abroad,” he said.

After his speeches were shown on television, hardline Islamist group Hefajat-e-Islam declared him “an apostate”.

Siddique has refused to apologise for his comments on the Hajj — a pilgrimage he performed in 1998, according to Bangladeshi dailies.

In 1994, similar protests by Islamists forced author Taslima Nasreen, a self-declared atheist, to seek exile abroad. Nasreen now lives in India.


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