Dhaka, Sept 18 (efe-epa) – The head of Bangladesh’s hardline Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam, Ahmad Shafi, died on Friday, a day after he had resigned as the head of an Islamic school after decades on the post.
“He died around 6 pm in Dhaka. He was suffering from many old age complications,” said Mufti Fayezullah, a senior leader of Hefazat, adding that Shafi was 103-years-old.
Shafi was earlier flown to Dhaka after his condition deteriorated while undergoing treatment in the southern city of Chittagong, where he headed the prominent religious school.
The Islamist rose to political prominence when he led thousands of students to a rally in 2013 demanding criminal prosecution of atheists, the imposition of the death penalty for blasphemy and public mixing of the sexes among others controversial demands.
The rally, which was largely seen as anti-government, came just a few months before the 2014 national elections and ended up in bloodshed with police forcefully evicting Shafi and his followers from Dhaka’s main commercial hub.
Two days of ensuing violence killed at least 58 people, including seven members of security forces, according to rights group Human Rights Watch.
Hefazat, which describes itself as a non-political grouping of religious bodies, also forced Bangladeshi authorities to remove the statue of the Greek goddess of justice Themis from the Supreme Court complex in Dhaka in 2017, condemning it as un-Islamic.
However, the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had appeared to woo the Hefazat chief before the next general elections by recognizing the certificates of Qawmi Madrasa, a type of Islamic schools con.
This was seen as an image-changing exercise by the ruling Awami League, which has traditionally faced resistance from Islamists due to its secular image.
A beaming photo of Hasina sitting next to Shafi in a reception in November 2018 had taken the social media by storm.
However, the Islamist leader continued to face criticism from country’s secular sections and women’s rights activists for his hardline position on various issues. EFE-EPA