At least four people were killed and more than a hundred others injured yesterday as religious zealots clashed with police in Bhola’s Borhanuddin upazila over a hate conversation spread through Facebook and its messenger.
At one stage of the clash that broke out around 10:30am, law enforcers had to fire shots to disperse the mob, who since Friday had been demanding punishment of a Hindu youth they claimed was responsible for the hate conversation from his Facebook account, said police.
The zealots torched a house and vandalised 12 more belonging to the Hindu community in Borhanuddin municipality around noon.
Seemingly designed to hurt religious sentiment, screenshots of the conversation went viral among social media users in the locality on Friday, and the person at the centre of the storm went to Borhanuddin Police Station that night and filed a general diary saying his Facebook account had been hacked.
Sarkar Md Kaiser, superintendent of police in Bhola, told The Daily Star that they already detained two persons involved in hacking the Facebook account.
“We have got all information relating to the Facebook hacking,” he said.
The dead are Mahfuzur Rahman, 45, a resident of ward-3 of Borhanuddin municipality; Mahbub Patwari, 14, and Abu Raihan of Borhanuddin upazila; and Mizanur Rahman, 40, of Hazirhat of Monpura upazila.
Of the injured, 42 were admitted to Bhola Sadar Hospital. Thirty others were receiving treatment at Barishal Sher-e-Bangla Medical College Hospital and 10 more at Borhanuddin Upazila Health Complex, said sources at the three hospitals.
Police Constable Md Arif, who was seriously injured in the clash, was air-lifted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Members of Border Guard Bangladesh were deployed in the upazila of the island district to maintain law and order.
HOW IT STARTED
Tension grew in Borhanuddin upazila on Friday afternoon soon after the hate conversation was circulated allegedly from the youth’s Facebook account to some of his Facebook friends, said locals and police.
Some of them then saved screenshots of the hate conversation and made it viral on the social media platform, stirring up outrage among locals, they said.
Around 8:00pm on Friday, the youth, a student of Bhola Government College, went to Borhanuddin Police Station and filed the GD. Police then took him in custody.
Throughout Saturday, a group of locals under the banner of “Sarbastorer Muslim Tawhidi Janata” staged demonstrations at the upazila headquarters, Kunjerhat and Borhanganj bazar, demanding trial of the youth.
From there, they announced holding a rally at the Eidgah Maidan at 11:00am yesterday and through loudspeakers urged people to join it.
Meanwhile, police and the local administration took initiatives to ease the simmering tension by engaging with religious leaders and local representatives, according to a statement of the police headquarters.
Law enforcers also kept the youth in custody as per demands of local Alems.
Even the representatives of the Alems called off their protest programme upon police’s assurance that necessary legal action would be taken, it said.
But a group of people started gathering at the Eidgah Maidan and a “quarter” set up 17 loudspeakers at different points of the Maidan yesterday morning, mentioned police.
The law enforcers, who had been at the spot since morning, requested the Alems there to clear the area, but the religious leaders said there would be no disorder.
The upazila nirbahi officer, the SP and Additional DIG of Barishal Range AKM Ehsanullah went to the spot and gave speeches, assuring locals of taking necessary steps.
Assured, people started leaving the spot, said the statement.
After delivering the speeches, the SP and the additional DIG along with other officials went to a room of a nearby madrasa.
In the meantime, members of a vested quarter entered the Eidgah Maidan and started inciting people. Without any provocation, a group of people then swooped on the officials staying in the room, said police in the statement.
Wielding firearms, members of the group attacked the officials and shot a policeman, leaving him seriously injured. The additional DIG and another police official also got injured, it said.
Under the circumstances, police fired teargas canisters and shotgun shells upon orders from the UNO and the executive magistrate in self-defence and to save public property, mentioned the statement.
“As the situation worsened, police were compelled to open fire upon directives from the magistrate,” it said.
Talking to The Daily Star, Additional DIG Ehsanullah said the angry mob broke the door of the room partially, but could not get in.
“We used a mattress as a shield … Had they managed to enter the room, they would have killed me, the SP and the UNO,” he said.
When the officials came under attack, the UNO contacted the deputy commissioner, who permitted police to fire shots to take them to safety, said the additional DIG.
“We had no option but to open fire.”
VESTED QUARTER USED RELIGION
The police HQ said a vested quarter was out to create unrest by using religion.
“The situation is completely under control,” it said, calling upon people to maintain communal harmony.
A five-member committee, led by the DIG of Barishal Range, was formed to probe the incident. It was asked to submit its report within seven working days.
EXTORTION MONEY SOUGHT
When the Hindu youth went to Borhanuddin Police Station to file the GD, he got a phone call and the caller asked him to pay extortion money, said police.
The youth conveyed it to the officer-in-charge, who then relayed the message to the Bhola SP.
Police arrested the caller, Sharif, from Patuakhali and another person named Emon from Borhanuddin upazila on Friday night. Both of them were involved in hacking the youth’s Facebook account, said police.
In the past, rumours through Facebook posts led to incidents of attacks on minority communities. Such attacks took place in Ramu of Cox’s Bazar in 2012, Ataikula in Pabna in 2013, Nasirnagar in Brahmanbaria in 2016 and Horkoli Thakurpara in Rangpur in 2017.
Three dozen cases were filed in connection with the incidents, but trial of none of those has been completed.
DEMO IN CTG
Students of different madrasas, mostly from Darul-Ulum Moinul Islam Madrasa, known as the base of Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam, vandalised Hathazari Police Station yesterday, protesting the police firing in Bhola.
They also barricaded roads in and around the Hathazari Bus Station area and demonstrated setting fire to tyres.
The madrasa students, mostly followers of Hefazat, started demonstrating near the bus stand around 5:00pm and brought out a procession from there, according to police and locals.
The protesters blocked Hathazari road. At one stage, they started hurling brickbats at police and vandalised Hathazari Police Station.
Unruly Hefazat activists swooped on two journalists of private TV channel DBC news when the two went to the spot to cover the incident. They are reporter Md Shahidul Sumon and cameraperson Md Parvez. Later, police took them to safety.
Talking to this newspaper, Additional SP (North) Moshiuddowla Reza of Chattogram Police said, “Activists of Hefazat-e-Islam and madrasa students brought out a procession. At one point, they vandalised the police station and attacked police when the law enforcers tried to stop them.
“Later they blocked the roads in and around the bus stand area and staged demonstrations … The situation was later brought under control,” he mentioned.
No case was filed and no one was arrested.