Amnesty International has called for the immediate and unconditional release of Hridoy Chandra Mondal, a school teacher who was arrested on charges of "hurting religious sentiment" during a classroom discussion on the distinction between religion and science.
The rights organisation has been documenting a growing sense of fear among people in Bangladesh stemming from the arbitrary detention and growing criminalization of the right to freedom of expression, reads a press release.
Hridoy Chandra Mandal's case only exacerbates the situation and represents a direct threat to one of the last bastions of free expression in the country, the press release noted.
"It is outrageous that a teacher finds himself behind bars simply for voicing his opinion while teaching a class. Teachers should be free to discuss ideas and opinions of all kinds without fear of reprisals. Hridoy 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.
"Hridoy Chandra Mondal's detention is emblematic of a disturbing trend in Bangladesh where the space for free expression is rapidly shrinking. Detaining a teacher for simply discussing ideas in class sets a dangerous precedent where even challenging students to think critically can now land someone in jail."
During a science class discussion at school, where teachers should be free to discuss any ideas or facts without fear of reprisals, the teacher argued that "religion is a matter of faith" while "science looks at the evidence", according to a recording that was filmed (by a someone in the class) and shared on social media.
In the audio recording accessed by Amnesty International, the teacher said: "There is no evidence in religion. Religion, in the end, says God will take care of everything. Religion offers memorized words whereas science shows evidence".
On 22 March, two days after the recording was made, the school's headteacher told the media that students and other people from the community were demonstrating outside the school demanding punishment for Hridoy Chandra Mondal. Later that day, an office assistant of the high school filed a case against Hridoy, who was subsequently arrested.
He has since been held in judicial custody after being denied bail twice. The next bail hearing is scheduled for 10 April at the District and Sessions Judges Court.
Several civil society and academic organisations, including the Bangladesh Astronomical Association and the Centre for Women Journalists, have condemned the arrest and raised concerns about the ability of academics to teach.
Similarly, human rights defenders, lawyers and teachers around the country have raised questions about the time of the arrest, which according to them appears to be politically motivated.
"Hridoy Chandra Mondal's detention is a shameful demonstration of the erosion of the human rights situation in Bangladesh. The authorities must take urgent measures to improve the conditions that allow people to express freely and safely, and ensure that teachers can speak freely in class without fear of reprisals," Smriti Singh added.
BLAST demands immediate release of Hridoy Mondol
Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) has demanded an immediate and unconditional release of school teacher Hridoy Chandra Mondal.
In a statement issued Saturday (9 April), the rights group also expressed its deep concern as the school teacher is not being granted bail despite repeated petitions.
Supreme Court lawyer Advocate ZI Khan, also member of BLAST trustee board, said, "The audio record of the incident has not been properly assessed and action has been taken against the teacher without proper investigation of the incident."
Demanding Hridoy Mondol's release, the lawyer also called for bringing the culprits behind the incident to book.