Bangladesh detains popular preacher in ‘anti-terrorism’ case

Police say Amir Hamza arrested in a raid at his home in Kushtia on charges of inciting ‘militants’.

A court remanded Hamza for 10 days for questioning, police said [Md Sumit Ahmed Sohel/AFP]
Correction31 Mar 2022
A previous version of this article mentioned that preacher Mizanur Rahmani Azhari fled Bangladesh in 2019 over fears he would be prosecuted for his remarks. Mizanur Rahmani Azhari says his departure was not motivated by fear of arrest, so this article has been amended to remove the reference to him.

Bangladesh police have arrested one of the country’s most popular preachers, whose rallies draw tens of thousands of people, on charges of inciting “militants”, a senior officer said.

Amir Hamza was detained in a raid at his home on Tuesday in the western city of Kushtia and then transferred to Dhaka, police said.

Hamza is the latest high-profile religious leader to be held since March when a visit by India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi sparked protests in which at least 13 people died.

A court remanded Hamza for 10 days for questioning, Mohammad Asaduzzaman, head of Dhaka police’s counterterrorism unit, told the AFP news agency.

“He is an accused in an anti-terrorism case,” Asaduzzaman said, adding that investigators had found videos of Hamza’s speeches in the mobile phone of a suspect detained this month over an alleged plot to attack Bangladesh’s parliament.

Hamza, who is in his 30s, is one of a new generation of preachers whose firebrand speeches draw huge crowds in the country of 160 million.

Hamza’s YouTube video speeches get millions of views.

The visit by Modi was the spark for the new wave of arrests. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was reportedly embarrassed by the protests during a visit by a key ally.

Protesters – mostly from the Hefazat-e-Islam group – accuse Modi of pursuing anti-Muslim policies and tens of thousands held mass protests during which some police stations and government offices came under attack.

They opposed Modi being invited to Bangladesh’s Golden Jubilee celebrations of independence and the birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s founder and father of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Bangladesh’s deputy national police chief, Haider Ali, told AFP that at least 1,230 followers of the Hefazat group had been arrested since the deadly protests on March 26-28.

Dozens of Hefazat leaders have been detained.

Source: AFP