On 31 October 2021, the Metropolitan Magistrate Court ordered the Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) to investigate members of the rock band Meghdol three days after a legal complaint was filed against them for allegedly insulting “religious sentiments” during one of their performances.
“Investigating members of the band Meghdol over their music is in clear violation of the musicians’ human right to freely express themselves artistically,” said Gerd Elmark, Freemuse Interim Executive Director. “The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed by Article 19 of the ICCPR and should be protected. Artists should not be subjected to legal prosecution for their political beliefs or stances towards religion. We call on the Bangladeshi authorities to end the investigation against Meghdol.”
“We are gravely concerned over the incident of investigating members of music group Meghdol for hurting religious sentiment. […] Instead of constitution guaranteeing freedom of artistic expression as free-thinking, artists and activists are continuously facing obstacles and barriers to exercise their constitutional rights by state and non-state actors in Bangladesh. […],” said Shahanur Islam, Secretary General, Bangladesh Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) and JusticeMakers Bangladesh. “We are urging the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to do everything in her power to ensure to drop the case against members of Meghdol after a full and impartial investigation into the reported case […].”
According to Dhaka Tribune, the seven band members Shibu Kumar Shil, Mezba-ur Rahman Sumon, Rashid Sharif Shoaib, MG Kibaria, Amjad Hossain, Tanvir Dawood Rony and Sourav Sarkar are under investigation after lawyer Imrul Hasan filed a complaint to the court alleging that his “religious sentiments” had been hurt. Hasan claims that Meghdol insulted his religious sentiments during the performance of the song Om at the concert Against Violence at Dhaka University held on 22 October 2021, which was later streamed on YouTube.
Freemuse sources report that Hasan filed a complaint under Section 295(A) of the Penal code, criminalising “insults or attempts to insult the religion”. If found guilty, the band members could be punished with imprisonment for up to two years, a fine, or both.
Hasan claims that the band used the melody from the Islamic prayer the Talbiyah and “disrespectfully” sang the verse “Labbaik Allah humma labbaik”, meaning “Here I am, O Allah, here I am” during their performance.
The court ordered the PBI to submit its report by 1 December 2021.
As mentioned in the State of Artistic Freedom 2021 report, there were 24 persecuted artists in 2020 under the pretext of religion.
This is not the first instance of Hasan targeting Bangladeshi musicians with complaints of this nature. In February 2020, the lawyer filed a complaint against Rita Dewan, Baul singer, under section 28 of the Digital Security Act (DSA), which prohibits broadcasting any content “with the aim of hurting religious sentiments or values”.
Freemuse, the Bangladesh Institute of Human Rights and JusticeMakers Bangladesh call on the Bangladeshi authorities to end the investigation against Meghdol.