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Cablegate: Demonstrations Anticipated in Wake of Cartoon That Insults

VZCZCXRO3930
OO RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #1541 2640807
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 210807Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5136
INFO RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 1825
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0175
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 9283
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 8094
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0919

UNCLAS DHAKA 001541

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPT PASS TO DS/IP/NEA-SCA, DS/IP/ITA, DSERCC

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ASEC PHUM BG
SUBJECT: DEMONSTRATIONS ANTICIPATED IN WAKE OF CARTOON THAT INSULTS
PROPHET

1. (U) Summary: A cartoon satirizing the name of the Prophet
Mohammed has led to the arrest of the cartoonist and a demand from
Islamic clerics for the arrest of the editor and the publisher of
the Bangladesh newspaper that published it. Some clerics threatened
countrywide demonstrations after weekly prayers on Friday if the
government fails to meet their demand. End Summary.

2. (U) Police September 18 arrested freelance cartoonist Arifur
Rahman, who satirized the name of Mohammed by using the Prophet's
name in conjunction with an animal, in this case a cat, in a cartoon
published in a satirical magazine, a publication of Dhaka's largest
circulation newspaper, Prothom Alo. A Dhaka court September 19 sent
Rahman to jail for 30 days September 19, under a Special Powers Act
(SPA) order, which is meant for preventive detention. Prothom Alo,
for its part, published announcements apologizing for inadvertently
publishing the "unacceptable" cartoon; withdrew the cartoon; vowed
action against employees responsible for it, and promised not to
publish any cartoons by Arifur Rahman in the future. The government
confiscated issues of the magazine on newsstands.

3. (U) Some Islamic clerics demanded the government arrest Prothom
Alo editor Matiur Rahman, its publisher Mahfuz Anam and others
responsible for publishing the cartoon and cancel the paper's
license. (NOTE: Mahfuz Anam is also the editor of the Daily Star,
an English-language newspaper in Dhaka. END NOTE.) The clerics
threatened countrywide demonstrations after Friday prayers September
21 if the government failed to meet their demands. In a September
18 meeting with Law and Information Adviser Mainul Hosein, another
group of Islamic clerics recommended handing over the Prothom Alo
editor and publisher to the "hands of law" and called for calm.
Echoing the clerics' call for calm, Hosein referred to the cartoon
as a conspiracy to destabilize Bangladesh weeks after violent
protests at Dhaka University rocked the country.

4. (SBU) The Chief Advisor's Press Secretary Fahim Munaim told us
that the Council of Advisors September 19 discussed the situation
and the possibility of arresting the editor and publisher, but did
not make a final decision. Editor Rahman himself, however, has told
us that the Chief Advisor, who is in charge of the Home Affairs
Ministry, has decided to file a case against him and the cartoonist,
charging them with "hurting the religious feelings of the people."
Other sources indicated that police and some intelligence agencies
unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Chief Advisor to order Rahman's
arrest. Editors of ten Dhaka newspapers in a statement issued after
a meeting with Advisor Mainul Hosein September 20 called upon the
public to forgive Prothom Alo in view of its apology and other
actions; the editors asked the newspaper not to repeat the same
mistake in the future.

5. (SBU) Comment: Given the high sensitivity of any perceived
disrespect shown to Prophet Mohammed in this predominantly Muslim
society, the government seems to have moved quickly to involve
Islamic clerics in trying to defuse the situation, which had a huge
potential to destabilize the country. The newspaper's apology and
action against the cartoonist and others responsible for its
publication, the arrest of the cartoonist, and the call for calm
from the clerics and the government may help keep the situation
under control.

6. (SBU) Comment, continued: The Charge convened an EAC meeting at
the end of the day Thursday, September 20. RSO shared police
reports that a demonstration of as many as 50,000 people is expected
Friday in front of Dhaka's Baitul Mukarram Mosque, a popular
rallying point. Police believe smaller demonstrations may occur at
other landmarks, including at Prothom Alo's offices. In response to
the threat of demonstrations, the Embassy has distributed
Mission-wide a security notice that advises caution and notes areas
of Dhaka that are off-limits to Mission personnel. The notice has
been posted on the Embassy website. The Embassy will monitor any
demonstrations on Friday and continues to follow issues of press
freedom in Bangladesh. End Comment.

PASI

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