“We all have to stand against this fundamentalist movement,” he added.
The influence of Islamic hard-liners has been growing steadily in Bangladesh, which broke away from Pakistan in 1971 and, for decades, defined itself as adamantly secular and democratic.
In recent years, its authorities have struggled to contain extremist violence against religious minorities, foreigners, gay people and secular intellectuals. Attendance at madrasas, or Islamic schools, is swelling, and more women are wearing the hijab, or head scarf.
The statue became a proxy for simmering tension between proponents of secularism, which is enshrined in Bangladesh’s Constitution, and religious leaders. About 90 percent of Bangladesh’s citizens are Muslim, with a steadily shrinking Hindu minority and small groups of Christians and Buddhists.
Last month, Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, signaled that she supported the statue’s removal, describing it as a depiction of Themis, the Greek goddess, who is traditionally seen blindfolded and carrying scales and a sword.
“Why would a statue of the Greek Themis be set up in Bangladesh?” she said last month.
Mr. Haque, the sculptor, denied that the statue represented the Greek goddess.
As workmen dismantled the statue on Friday, scores of left-wing, secular activists gathered outside the court’s gates, protesting its removal.
A protest leader, Asif Noor, said he believed the government complied with Hefazat’s demand in hopes of securing votes in national elections, to be held in 2019.
As dawn approached, the protesters tried to…