Dhaka rally
Activists of Hefajat-e-Islam shout slogans during a rally in Dhaka. REUTERS

Islamist groups in Bangladesh held a mass protest Saturday in the capital, Dhaka, demanding that the government introduce an anti-blasphemy law that would include death penalty for bloggers who insult Islam and Prophet Muhammad.

The rally, backed by Islamist group Hefajat-e-Islam, to pressurize the government came four days after Bangladesh police arrested three atheist bloggers for allegedly defaming Islam and the Prophet. The three could face 10 years in prison if convicted under the country's cyber laws, which criminalize "defaming" a religion, AFP news agency reported, citing Dhaka police Deputy Commissioner Molla Nazrul Islam.

Islamist supporters staged a “long march" from around the country to take part in Saturday's rally in the national capital.

A 45-year-old man was killed Friday when some Islamist activists clashed with supporters of the ruling Awami League.

Bus and river transport has been halted and groups opposed to the rally have announced a day-long strike, BBC reported.

The man killed Friday was an Awami League supporter. At least, 10 people were hurt when police opened fire in the Kamrangirchar area of Dhaka, the BBC report added.

The arrests and the Islamist march coincide with violent riots in the country over a war crimes tribunal, which is trying Islamist leaders for crimes committed during country's 1971 liberation war from Pakistan.

The tribunal, set up in March 2010 by the Awami League-led government, is trying a total of nine Jamaat-e-Islami party leaders and two members of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

The tribunal verdicts so far, handing two death sentences and a life sentence, sparked protests by Jamaat supporters even as counter-demonstrations were held by supporters of the tribunal, partly encouraged by secular bloggers, demanding death sentences for all those responsible for abuses during the war.

Jamaat-e-Islami, a key ally of the country's largest opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, accuses the government of using war crimes charges to try to curb the opposition party's activities.

In February, Ahmed Rajib Haider, a blogger who had called for the execution of Islamist leaders, was killed outside his home amid tensions over a tribunal verdict.

The three men arrested Tuesday were among 84 “atheist bloggers” named in a list handed over by an Islamist group to a government panel probing alleged blasphemy against Islam on the Internet.

The arrests prompted eight blog operators to black out their websites, amid a liberal backlash against the government for yielding to Islamist pressure.