Bangladesh. Teacher detained for discussing difference between science and religion must be released immediately

Bangladeshi authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Hriday Chandra Mondal, a teacher who was arrested for “undermining religious sentiment” after discussing the distinction between religion and science in class, Amnesty International has said.

During the discussion at school, where teachers should be free to discuss any idea or fact without fear of reprisal, the teacher argued that “religion is a matter of faith” while “science review the evidence,” according to a recording filmed by [a student/someone in the class and?] shared on social media. In the audio recording to which Amnesty International has had access, the teacher said: “There is no evidence in religion. Religion at the end says God will take care of everything. Religion offers memorized words while science shows proofs”.

On March 22, two days after the recording, the school principal told the media that students and other people from the community were demonstrating outside the school demanding sanctions against Hriday Chandra Mondal. Later that day, a high school office assistant filed a complaint with the police against the teacher, who was later arrested. He has since been taken into custody after being twice denied bail. The next bail hearing is scheduled for April 10, 2022 in the District and Sessions Judges Court.

It is outrageous for a teacher to end up behind bars simply for speaking their mind while teaching a class. Teachers should be free to discuss ideas and opinions of all kinds without fear of reprisal.

Smriti SinghDeputy Regional Director, South Asia

“Hriday Chandra Mondal is solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Smriti Singh, Deputy Regional Director for South Asia at Amnesty International.

“The detention of Hriday Chandra Mondal is emblematic of a worrying trend in Bangladesh where the space for freedom of expression is rapidly shrinking. Detaining a teacher for simply discussing ideas in class sets a dangerous precedent where even getting students to think critically can now land someone in jail.

Amnesty International has documented a growing sense of fear among the people of Bangladesh resulting from arbitrary detention and the growing criminalization of the right to freedom of expression. The case of Hriday Chandra Mandal only exacerbates the situation and poses a direct threat to one of the last bastions of freedom of expression in the country.

Several civil society organizations and academics, including the Astronomical Association of Bangladesh and the Center for Women Journalists, condemned the arrest and raised concerns about the academics’ ability to teach. Likewise, human rights defenders, lawyers and teachers across the country have raised questions about the timing of the arrest, which they say appears to be politically motivated.

“The detention of Hriday Chandra Mondal is a shameful manifestation of the erosion of the human rights record in Bangladesh. Authorities must take urgent action to improve the conditions for people to speak freely and safely, and ensure that teachers can speak freely in the classroom without fear of reprisal,” said Smriti Singh.

Background

Under international human rights law, the exercise of the right to freedom of expression may only be subject to certain restrictions if they are provided for by clearly formulated law and are demonstrably necessary and proportionate for the purposes of the protection of specific public interests (national security, public order, or public health or morals) or the rights or reputation of others. The protection of abstract concepts or religious or other beliefs, or the religious sensitivities of their followers, is not an acceptable ground for restricting the right to freedom of expression.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief recently observed that “sensitivity regarding the religious feelings of different religious and belief communities should become an important feature of the culture of communication… Subjective feelings of offense , however, should never guide legislative action, court decisions or other activities of the state”.

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