DHAKA: A rickshaw puller pedals past a mural of Bangladesh's founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Dhaka yesterday. - AFP

DHAKA: A Bangladesh mayor who refused to permit a mural depicting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's father on religious grounds was arrested yesterday, police said. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was independent Bangladesh's first leader and since his daughter took power in 2009, authorities have erected more than 1,000 murals and monuments to venerate him.

Scores of people have also been charged for defaming him under the country's notorious internet laws, which rights groups say have been used by Hasina to silence dissent. Abbas Ali, the mayor of western Rajshahi city, found himself in the spotlight last month after an audio clip of his comments against a proposed Mujib mural went viral.

"This is not correct according to Islamic sharia," he had said. "That's why I won't keep it. I will build everything as it's planned, except for this last part." Islamic traditions forbid depictions of people in murals or statues as part of the religion's restrictions against idolatry. His comments triggered protests in his home town. The mayor initially claimed the clip was fake, but later apologised on Facebook and fled town.

Police arrested Ali from a hotel in the capital Dhaka yesterday, spokesman Khandaker Al Moin told AFP. "He admitted he made the comment. He was absconding in different hotels in Dhaka since November 23. We had information that he's planning to flee the country," he added. The case follows last month's sacking by Hasina of Zahagir Alam, the mayor of the industrial city of Gazipur, after he allegedly defamed Rahman. Both Alam and Ali were members of Hasina's ruling Awami League party.

Mujib led his country to independence from Pakistan in 1971 after a horrific nine-month war that Bangladesh says killed as many as three million and displaced many more. He was assassinated four years later along with most of his family. Under his daughter Hasina, 74, activists say the human rights situation in Bangladesh has deteriorated sharply, with clampdowns on free expression that have seen hundreds of journalists and activists arrested. Hasina's main political opposition has been crippled with its chief and her arch-rival Khaleda Zia jailed for corruption. - AFP