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The International Publishers Association today called for the immediate release and protection of a 73-year-old publisher arrested in Dhaka Monday on the grounds that he had launched a book deemed offensive to Islam.

Shamsuzzoha Manik and two of his associates were arrested hours after his book stall at the month-long Bangladesh International Book Fair was closed by the organizers following threats of violence by Islamists.

On 1 February IPA President Richard Charkin gave an opening address at the same book fair in front of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other senior ministers.

Charkin said of the arrests: "This is another big step in the wrong direction for freedom of expression in Bangladesh. Two weeks ago I spoke about the importance of allowing publishing to prosper freely. I call on Prime Minister Hasina now to put this right and ensure Shamsuzzoha Manik is freed immediately and given the protection he needs. Bangladesh needs to take sincere, serious steps to stop this slide into a situation where extremists call the shots and the state does their bidding."

Last year the IPA and its Bangladeshi member, the Academic and Creative Publishers Association of Bangladesh (ACPAB), called on the government to do more to protect publishers following a string of violent attacks that left four bloggers and a publisher dead and several more badly wounded.

ACPAB Executive Director Kamrul Hasan Shayok said: "We are very worried by the arrest of publisher Shamsuzzoha Manik. We hope he'll get proper judgement. It is a sobering fact that in Bangladesh there is an enormous lack of awareness regarding freedom to publish. We have to work together with IPA to build up this awareness and to remove the root of militancy from our society. For the sake of progressive and modern Bangladesh we must safeguard freedom to publish in Bangladesh."

Among those who survived one of last year's attacks was Bangladeshi publisher Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury, who was set upon for publishing books by Bangladeshi-American writer and Avijit Roy, a secular blogger who was among those murdered in early 2015.

Known as "Tutul", Chowdhury has been in hiding since the October 2015 attack. However, he has agreed to take part in a panel debate on freedom to publish at the IPA Congress, in London, from 9-12 April 2016.

He said: "This arrest is deeply upsetting and worrying; I fear that in Bangladesh we are seeing a return to the terrible events of 2015. I sincerely hope that Shamsuzzoha Manik is quickly freed and allowed to resume his important work. When the state becomes the agent of an extremist agenda, then freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights fall victim to tyranny and violence, and the whole of society suffers."

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