Amnesty International has urged the Bangladeshi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Hriday Chandra Mondal, a schoolteacher who was arrested on charges of “hurting religious sentiment” after he discussed in the classroom the distinction between religion and science.

In a statement published on Saturday, Smriti Singh, deputy regional director for South Asia at Amnesty International, said, “Hriday Chandra Mondal is solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

“Hriday 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,” she added.

The statement further said, “Amnesty International has been documenting a growing sense of fear among people in Bangladesh stemming from the arbitrary detention and growing criminalisation of the right to freedom of expression. Hriday’s case only exacerbates the situation and represents a direct threat for one of the last bastions of free expression in the country.”

Smriti Singh said, “Hriday 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.”

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.

Earlier on 20 March the teacher argued that “religion is a matter of faith” while “science looks at evidence”, according to a recording that was filmed during the class which was later shared on social media.

On 22 March, two days after the recording was made, the school’s head master told the media that the students and other people from the community were demonstrating outside the school calling for punishment for Hriday.

Later that day, an office assistant of the high school filed a case against the teacher, 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 2022 at the District and Sessions Judges Court.