The four men, who deny the charges, were arrested earlier this year in the wake of nationwide protests in which Islamic groups demanded the execution of atheist online commentators. Judge Zahirul Haque, sitting in a court in the capital Dhaka, said the bloggers were being charged under the country’s Internet laws, senior public prosecutor Shah Alam Talukdar told AFP.

“They have been indicted... with defaming Islam and other religions through their Internet writings. They spread malice against all religions,” he said. Talukdar said if found guilty the bloggers, who are free on bail, could be sentenced to seven years in jail under the country’s ICT (Information Communication Technology) laws.

“All four have claimed to be atheists,” he added.

There has been vociferous debate between staunch atheists and fundamentalists in Bangladesh’s social media for years, but it took a deadly turn in February when an anti-Islam blogger was murdered.