Date: 27/05/2017

Lady Justice statue in Bangladesh is removed after Islamist objections
Hardline groups said sculpture of woman holding sword and scales outside supreme court was example of idol worship
Michael Safi
Last modified on Friday 26 May 2017 22.00 BST
The Lady Justice statue outside the supreme court in Dhaka.
A statue of Lady Justice has been removed from the supreme court building in the Bangladeshi capital after objections from Islamist groups.

The sculpture, by the local artist Mrinal Haque, was installed in front of the court in December, and depicts a woman in a sari clutching a sword and scales, similar to the traditional depiction of the Greek goddess Themis.

At first hardline Islamist groups, and later the country’s religious establishment, had been calling for the statue’s removal, on the grounds that its presence was an example of idol worship, forbidden in Islam.

A removal team arrived at the court at midnight on Thursday and began hammering at the base of the statue, using a crane to load it on to a pickup truck. The five-hour process attracted protesters and news networks, which broadcast the event live.

Haque oversaw the removal to ensure no damage was done to the statue, telling local media it was a “slap in the face of the progressive people in this country”.

“This is a Bengali woman, wearing a sari. There is nothing Greek about it. This is nothing but a symbol of justice,” he said.

He told the Associated Press he felt terrible. “This is injustice. This is not fair. My mother has died and I can easily compare my present feeling with that loss.”

The removal of the statue grew more likely last month after Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, told a gathering of clerics she was unsure why the statue had been installed.

“Why would the statue of Greek Themis be set up in Bangladesh?” she asked in a speech. “The Greeks had a certain type of costume, but here a statue has been built and it is wearing a sari … I don’t know why such an incident happened.”

The statue lies covered with a plastic sheet inside the supreme court premises in Dhaka.
The statue lies covered with a plastic sheet inside the supreme court premises in Dhaka. Photograph: A.M. Ahad/AP


The Bangladeshi attorney general, Mahbubey Alam, told the Bangla Tribune the country’s chief justice had ordered that the statue be removed and placed elsewhere.

“He told us he did not want any untoward incident over the statue in front of the supreme court. It should be removed and placed in some other location so that there are no questions raised about it,” he said.

“We also advised him that it would be prudent to remove the statue from in front of the court.”

Around a dozen student activists held a march at Dhaka University on Friday to protest against the statue’s removal, but were blocked by police who laid barbed-wire fences and fired teargas.

The campaign to remove the statue was started by Hefazat-e-Islam, a conservative religious movement that runs a large network of Islamic schools across Bangladesh. It had threatened to launch a mass movement if the statue remained in place.

Bangladesh has a secular government led by Hasina, but the political influence of Islamic movements is growing, and the decision was seen as a concession to religious voters before national elections in 2019.

Anisuzzaman, a participant in the country’s 1971 liberation war and a professor of Bengali literature, said the statue’s removal was “a sad development and we deplore it”.

“We see this as the government bowing down to the pressure of those who have used religion for political ends,” said Anisuzzaman, who like many south Asians uses only one name.

Additional reporting by Mushfique Wadud in Dhaka