DHAKA - Bangladesh's prime minister has ruled out a new blasphemy law to punish bloggers who defame Islam and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), despite facing growing protests from Islamic groups in the secular country.
They have demanded it. Actually, we don't have any plan to [bring in the law], Sheikh Hasina told BBC in an interview on Monday, April 8.
We don't need it. They should know that existing laws are enough.
Hasina's comments came just days after hundreds of thousands of supporters of an umbrella organization of Islamists held a massive rally in Dhaka.
In the protest held last Saturday, Islamists led by the Hefajat-e-Islam organization converged on Dhaka's main commercial hub to protest against latest writings by atheist bloggers, said to insult Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Marching to Dhaka's Motijheel commercial area, protesters called for a new blasphemy law, with the provision of the death penalty to punish those who insult Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
As part of their push for a change in the law, the Hefajat-e-Islam organisation on Monday forced the closure of schools and businesses across the country as part of a general strike.
Television reports said scores of people had been injured in clashes between pro-government activists and Islamists, already infuriated by the recent convictions of leading opposition figures for war crimes.
Leading a secular government in the Muslim-majority country since 2009, Hasina said existing laws were adequate to prosecute anyone accused of insulting a religion.
This country is a secular democracy. So each and every religion has the right to practice their religion freely and fair, she said
But it is not fair to hurt anybody's religious feeling. Always we try to protect every religious sentiment.
Tension has gripped Bangladesh in recent weeks over postings by bloggers seen as insulting Islam.
Troubles agitated after the death of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider who was hacked to death near his home in the capital Dhaka.
Dozens of people including Islamists died and hundreds were injured as violence that rocked the country after police forces clashed with thousands of protesters from Islamist parties.
Despite ruling out a new blasphemy law, Sheikh Hasina promised to meet reasonable demands from Islamic groups.
We will go through all the demands and then we will see, the prime minister said.
If there is any reasonable one, we will fulfil. If it is not reasonable or not suitable for our country or society we will not accept it
Protesting groups have given a three-week ultimatum to the government to meet their demands, including tough punishment to those who they describe as atheist bloggers, who are also accused of making derogatory comments against Islam.
Under existing cyber laws, anyone convicted of defaming a religion on the Internet can be jailed for up to 10 years.
Death sentences against Islamist leaders on alleged war crimes during the 1971 war also have caused deadly clashes in Bangladesh last month.
So far, three Islamist leaders were sentenced to death on charges of war crimes during the independence war.
The court rulings, however, triggered deadly protests in Bangladesh, which left more than 150 people dead.
Human rights groups have accused the security forces of using excessive force to control the riots.
Yet, Hasina defended the police action.
Security forces are law enforcing agencies, they have to protect people and people's property she said.
You know many police officers were killedâ¦ If police are under attack, what will they do?