Feminist writer gains a respite

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The Independent Online
MUSLIM fundamentalists demonstrated again yesterday in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, to demand the death of the feminist writer Taslima Nasrin, but the authorities are hoping that her emergence from hiding to appear in court on Wednesday will help to defuse the controversy over her views.

Yesterday's rallies were small by recent standards - only about 2,000 zealots turned out for the larger of the two - although further demonstrations planned for today, the Muslim sabbath, may be a better test of the fundamentalists' support. Some influential groups, principally the hardline Jamaat Islami, appear to have toned down their campaign against Ms Nasrin for the time being.

The 32-year-old doctor- turned-writer first antagonised Muslim groups last year with her novel Lajja (Shame), which attacked male-dominated Islamic society. Earlier this year there was fresh outrage when an Indian newspaper quoted her as saying the Koran should be revised, a comment she denies making. On 4 June, fearing her safety could not be guaranteed, she went into hiding after a Dhaka court ordered her arrest to face charges under a colonial-era law of offending religious feelings.

Bangladesh's harried government, which has been accused by liberal critics at home and abroad of yielding to extremists, now hopes passions will cool while Ms Nasrin's case makes its way through the legal system. 'To the extent that the authorities have a strategy, it seems to be to lose the thing in the courts,' said a diplomat. A government spokesman, however, said: 'We have always insisted that Ms Nasrin should surrender, and allow the law to take its course, and we have been vindicated.'

The writer would be able to travel abroad with the court's permission, he added, but foreign supporters discount suggestions that she will go into permanent exile. 'She could have escaped before now, but Bangladesh is her home, and her family depends on her,' said one. 'She would forfeit her assets if she jumped bail, and would find it hard to make a living as a writer abroad.'