Muslim fanatics have vandalized at least five Hindu temples in Bangladesh over a Facebook post that allegedly mocked Islam. Activists say that Islamists are increasingly monitoring the Internet to attack minorities.
The attack took place on Sunday in the eastern Bangladeshi town of Brahmanbaria after a Facebook post showed a photoshopped picture of a Hindu deity sitting inside the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site. Islamic fanatics accused a Hindu fisherman of posting the photo and subsequently vandalized some 100 homes and at least five temples belonging to the Hindu community.
Similar attacks have taken place in the past in the Muslim-majority country where certain Facebook posts have been dubbed as "hurtful" for the Muslims.
Jyotirmoy Barua, a lawyer and human rights activist, says that Bangladeshi Islamists are using social media to orchestrate attacks on the country's minorities.
"Buddhist temples were attacked in 2012 in the town of Ramu following a Facebook post that Islamists said was blasphemous. In 2013, a number of Hindu temples were vandalized in the town of Pabna for the same reason,'' Barua told DW, adding that he saw a pattern to these attacks.
The lawyer also criticized Facebook for its "complicated" tagging system. Barua pointed out that the Sunday attack happened because the Muslims felt "insulted" by a post to which a Hindu man had been tagged.
"There is no protection for the users who are not very tech-savvy. Using modern technologies and surveillance equipment, some people can easily take over someone else's digital activities in our country,'' he said.
A common occurrence
Hindus make up nearly 10 percent of the 160 million people living in Bangladesh. Many members of the community have left the country in the past four decades, seeking asylum in neighboring India.
Irrespective of the latest social media controversy, the attacks on Hindus and other religious minorities are rampant in the South Asian country. In the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Mosque in India in 1992, Islamic fundamentalists destroyed over 200 Hindu temples across the country. Many Hindu families were also attacked by extremists at that time.
Violence against the Hindu community is also a common occurrence during the election time as political parties tend to use anti-minority rhetoric in an attempt to appease conservative voters.
Bangladesh's minorities have historically supported the Awami League, which is one of the two major political parties in the county. However, Barua argues that the minorities in Bangladesh suffer more under a secular Awami League government.
"The ruling Awami League party claims to be secular and friendly towards the Hindu community, however, the attacks on the community have increased since it came to power,'' he underlined.
But Rana Dasgupta, the Secretary General of the Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC), doesn't blame the ruling party for the attacks. He believes the country's Islamic parties are the culprits.
"Islamists, particularly the supporters of Bangladesh's biggest Islamic party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, are behind the attacks on the Hindu community,'' Dasgupta told DW.
Dasgupta said the security forces remained passive throughout the Sunday attack, which he said lasted for four hours. "It appeared as if the authorities allowed it to happen. Also, the attack looked pre-planned,'' he said.
Officials deny the claim and say they have arrested nine men in connection with the attack. Paramilitary forces were deployed in the area to prevent further violence, they told media.
"We have also arrested a 30-year-old Hindu man in connection with the Facebook post. He violated the Internet laws," Abdul Kader, a police official, told reporters. He said the controversial Facebook post had already been taken down.