Bangladesh college suspends professor for "defaming" PM's father

Dhaka (AFP) –


Bangladesh's most prestigious university has suspended a professor for writing a column critical of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's father, as the ruling party cracks down on dissent in a tense election year.

Morshed Hasan Khan was "suspended until further notice" from Dhaka University, its vice-chancellor said Tuesday, after the student wing of the Awami League staged angry rallies on campus.

University head Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman said Khan defamed Bangladesh's first post-independence president and Hasina's father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in the controversial article published in a Bengali daily.

The professor of marketing was also accused of "distorting the history" of Bangladesh's war of independence in 1971, the legacy of which remains contentious today.

Dhaka University is regarded as a stronghold of liberalism and secularism in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, which has been ruled by Hasina's Awami League for more than nine years.

Hasina jailed her political rival, Khaleda Zia, in February for corruption in a move seen by critics as an attempt to remove opposition ahead of a general election slated for December.

The jail sentence handed to Zia, a two-time former premier and erstwhile ally of Hasina, sparked angry clashes between police and supporters from her Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Rights groups have accused Hasina's government of exploiting a controversial law to curb dissent and limit freedom of expression in the country of 160 million.

In his column, Khan said it was military strongman and opposition hero Ziaur Rahman -- not Hasina's father -- who declared Bangladesh's independence, a hugely provocative assertion, at the start of the war in 1971.

Khan also suggested most of the Awami League's leadership, including Hasina's father, fled Bangladesh when the war broke out.

Student supporters of the Awami League stormed Dhaka University's campus and declared Khan was no longer welcome after the piece attracted a firestorm of publicity.

The professor has since expressed regret, posting an apology on his Facebook page.

Teachers have been punished in the past for stances critical of Hasina's father.

In August last year 13 high school teachers were detained and remanded in custody ahead of a trial after being accused of sedition for remarks about Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Last week, a report by Germany think tank Bertelsmann Foundation listed Bangladesh as a new autocracy. The ruling party has rejected the assertion.