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Bangladesh's 'blasphemy' divide

Is freedom of speech at risk in the ongoing conflict between religious fundamentalists and secular voices in the media?

Last Modified: 13 May 2013 07:42
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Over the past two months, thousands of people have taken to the streets of Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka, demanding justice for all those involved in war crime tribunals. And the story is evolving into a battle about blasphemy.

Like Pakistan and Egypt before it, Bangladesh's conflict pits Islamic fundamentalists against secular voices in the media.

Bangladesh has no specific anti-blasphemy law on the books, but political movements like the Hafezat-e-Islami, or the Protectors of Islam, want one. And they are targeting a group of online activists they call ‘the atheist bloggers of Shahbag Square’.

At the height of the unrest in March, one atheist blogger was killed and another four arrested. Mainstream media organisations have not escaped unscathed. News outlets aligned with groups like Hifazat-e-Islam have been shut down by the government of Shaikh Hasina.

It is a difficult balancing act for Bangladeshi authorities who have been struggling to preserve freedom of speech as one side is accused of blasphemy and the other of inciting murder.

To discuss the on-going internal conflict in Bangladesh we talk with: Syed Zain al Mahmood, editor of the Dhaka Tribune; Sabir Mustafa, editor at BBC Bengali Service; writer and journalist Gita Sahgal; and David Bergman, editor of special reports for The New Age newspaper.

On this week’s Newsbytes: In Syria, the government is blamed when the Internet goes down, and a US journalist kidnapped in the country last year is reported alive and in government captivity; in Iran, a prominent website editor is arrested; and a satirical song attacking the Pakistani military is pulled offline.

The US presidential election was one of the biggest stories of 2012, and when it came to predictions, there was only one winner. Statistician Nate Silver cut through the political ads, the barrage of polls and did what mainstream media struggled to do, predicting a simple win for President Barack Obama. Silver, who runs the numbers blog on the New York Times website, Five Thirty Eight, did not just predict the win – he accurately predicted the result in all 50 states.

In the second half of the show the Listening Post’s Meenakshi Ravi sits down with Nate Silver to discuss his methodology, and his new book, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t.

Finally, in Russia, car insurance fraud has become so common that drivers have resorted to installing cameras on their dashboards to document evidence of bogus claims. But these electronic eyes have captured much more than that – cow pile-ups, road rage stand-offs, as well as a few acts of kindness.

For our Video of the Week, we have combined the good, the bad and even the ugly in ‘Life on the Russia Road’.

 
Listening Post can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0830, 1930; Sunday: 1430; Monday: 0430.

Click here for more Listening Post.

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Al Jazeera
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