Vigilantes impose Islamic code

Associated Press

Dhaka, May 6:

A vigilante group vowing to fight outlawed Maoist rebels in northern Bangladesh is imposing strict Islamic codes, including forcing Muslim women to wear veils and men to keep beards, newspapers reported today.

The Jagrota Muslim Janata — or Vigilant Muslim Citizens — has ordered Muslims to strictly follow Islamic codes and have punished those who don’t, the Daily Star and Prothom Alo newspapers reported.

“The group’s operatives are painting women with exposed navels black, forcing others to wear veil and men to grow beards,” according to the English-language Daily Star.

The Bengali-language daily Prothom Alo said the group “is terrorising people.” The vigilante group operates in remote villages in the northern districts of Rajshahi, Natore and Naogaon

and has vowed to fight outlawed Maoist rebels seeking to turn Bangladesh into a communist state. The vigilante group has allegedly caught and killed seven suspected Maoist rebels and assaulted hundreds since last month, according to the newspapers.

“Our goal is to end corruption, seize illegal weapons and establish the ideals of Prophet Muhammad,” Daily Star quoted the group’s leader Azizul Islam as saying. He claimed to have several thousand activists in the region. Islam denied that his men harass women but did not comment on the other accusations. Police have reportedly backed the vigilante group’s campaign against the rebels and done little to stop them from imposing Islamic laws on the population.

“We have asked police to support the vigilantes whenever they catch outlaws,” Noor Mohammad, a senior police official in the region, told Daily Star.

Mohammad said he has reports that group sometimes force women to wear veils or men to say their prayers.