A Secular Publisher Is the Latest Bangladeshi Killed By Suspected Islamist Radicals

TIME magazine reports on the latest attacks in Bangladesh:

A Bangladeshi publisher who worked with the slain writer and blogger Avijit Roy has been murdered in the country’s capital Dhaka, hours after an attack by machete-wielding assailants left another one of Roy’s publishers in critical condition.

Roy, a Bangladeshi-American writer known for his criticism of religion and fundamentalist violence, was hacked to death in Dhaka in February in what was the first of a series of attacks on secular writers and bloggers in the Muslim-majority country this year.

Faisal Arefin Dipan was one of Roy’s local publishers. On Oct. 31, his father Abul Kashem Fazlul Haq discovered his body when he rushed to his son’s office after hearing about an attack earlier in the day on Ahmedur Rashid Tutul, one of Roy’s other publishers.

The article goes on to quote CFI’s Michael De Dora:

Why does the government of Bangladesh allow its own people to live in constant terror of being hacked to death by roving marauders?” Michael De Dora, public policy director at the Center for Inquiry, a U.S. based non-profit that campaigns on free speech issues, asked in a statement issued after Dipan’s death. “How many more of the country’s bravest and brightest lights must be stamped out before the government takes definitive action to protect freedom of expression and the lives of brilliant writers, scholars and activists?”

De Dora also took aim at Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, for “placing blame on the victims for offending religious feelings. The government should immediately strengthen its efforts against terror groups expected to be carrying out these attacks.”

Speaking to TIME in September, Hasina said her government was investigating the blogger killings and reiterated her commitment to a secular Bangladesh, with space for all faiths. But the Prime Minister sent out an uncompromising message to those like Roy who identify with no religion. “Personally, I don’t support it, I don’t accept it. Why not? You have to have your faith. If anybody thinks they have no religion, O.K., it’s their personal view … But they have no right to write or speak against any religion.”

Bangladesh’s bloggers, she added, “should not hurt anybody’s [religious] feeling. When you are living in a society, you have to honor the social values, you have to honor the others’ feelings.”

You can read the full article here.

Publisher of Secularist Books Murdered in Bangladesh: Center for Inquiry Demands Action

A statement from the Center for Inquiry:

For the fifth time this year, individuals promoting secularist thought in Bangladesh have been violently attacked by extremists bent on eliminating or terrorizing critics of religious fundamentalism and champions of reason, science, and humanist values. Earlier today, Faisal Arefin Deepan, a publisher of secularist books — including those of this year’s first victim, Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy — was murdered in his office. The Center for Inquiry expressed its outrage at the killing, and at the Bangladeshi government’s unwillingness to confront the crisis and protect its people.

Faisal Arefin Deepan was killed by machete-wielding assailants at the Jagriti Prokashoni publishing house. The same day, three others were shot and stabbed at the Shudhdhoswar publishing house; thankfully, all of them survived. The attacks are widely believed to be part of the larger campaign of murder and terror waged by Ansarullah Bangla Team, which claimed responsibility for the previous secularist blogger killings, and which may be linked to Al Qaeda. Separately, the Islamic State, or ISIS, is suspected of carrying out deadly attacks on foreigners in the country.

The Center for Inquiry has been intimately involved in addressing this crisis, establishing the Freethought Emergency Fund as a way to assist secularist writers and activists in fear for their lives to relocate. CFI’s Office of Public Policy also worked closely with the late Avijit Roy to work on freedom of expression causes in Bangladesh, and continues to work with his friends and former colleagues to advance basic human rights in the country and the region.

“Why does the government of Bangladesh continue to allow its own people to live in constant terror of being hacked to death my roving marauders?” asked Michael De Dora, CFI’s main representative to the United Nations, who worked closely with Avijit Roy to organize worldwide protests in 2013. “How many more of the country’s bravest and brightest lights must be stamped out before the government takes definitive action to protect freedom of expression and the lives of brilliant writers, scholars, and activists?”

Added De Dora, “Not only has the Bangladeshi government not done enough to address this emergency and keep its commitments to international treaties, but worse, the prime minister himself has emboldened the killers by placing blame on the victims for offending religious feelings. Religions are ideas; they don’t need to be protected. Ideas don’t need rights — people do.”

“The government should immediately strengthen its efforts against terror groups suspected to be carrying out these attacks, and provide assistance and protection to threatened individuals, including the survivors of today’s attacks.”

Click here for a timeline on the crisis in Bangladesh , and visit CFI’s Campaign for Free Expression for more on the effort to protect dissent around the world.

Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi to Be Flogged Again, Wife Says

Via the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom, and as reported on CNN, we learn of some disturbing breaking news concerning one of the cases featured on the Campaign for Free Expression website:

A Saudi blogger convicted of “insulting Islam” is expected to receive the second 50 lashes of a 1,000-lash sentence soon, his wife says. …

The lashings are to be carried out 50 lashes at a time, 20 weeks in a row. Badawi received the first flogging in January 2015, but since then, the punishment has been pushed back several times. …

In a statement published on the Raif Badawi Foundation website Tuesday, [Badawi’s wife Ensaf] Haidar said that an “informed source” told her that Saudi authorities had approved resuming the floggings.

“The informed source also said that the flogging will resume soon but will be administered inside the prison,” Haidar said. The sentence originally called for the floggings to be carried out in public.

“It is worth mentioning that the same source had warned me of Raif’s pending flogging at the beginning of January 2015 and his warning was confirmed, as Raif was flogged on 9th January,” she said.

We will continue to track this situation and keep you informed if we learn of anything.

State Department Releases International Religious Freedom Report

The U.S. Department of State today released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2014.

The International Religious Freedom Report, now in its 17th year, attempts to give voice to those oppressed people and to document when and where the universal human right to religious freedom was violated. Congressionally-mandated and comprising almost 200 distinct reports on countries and territories, this report continues to reflect the United States’ commitment to, and advancement of, the right of every person to freedom of religion or belief.

In the Executive Summary to the full report,  blasphemy and other laws that restrict freedom of religion, belief, and expression are given a central focus:

People cannot enjoy religious freedom unless they have both the right to express their beliefs freely and change their religion without facing persecution, violence, or discrimination. The threat and enforcement of blasphemy and apostasy laws during the year had a significant impact on the ability of individuals to exercise freedoms of expression and religion and resulted in deaths and imprisonment.

The Summary then goes on to mention several situations or cases highlighted in the Campaign for Free Expression:

In Pakistan, the government’s general failure to investigate, arrest, or prosecute those responsible for religious freedom abuses promoted an environment of impunity. This environment fostered further intolerance and acts of violence. Government policies also failed to protect members of majority and minority religious groups. In addition, the persistent use of discriminatory legislation, such as blasphemy laws, including the government’s failure to address false accusations of blasphemy and laws designed to delegitimize the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, meant that minorities were often afraid to profess freely their religious beliefs. The Supreme Court announced a detailed judgment regarding minorities’ rights on June 20, in accordance with which the government created a National Commission for Minorities with representatives of various faith groups. However, other recommendations from the judgment have yet to be implemented, such as establishment of a police task force to protect minorities, revision of school curricula to promote religious and social tolerance, and steps to discourage hate speech in social media. …

Restricting free expression on basis of religion in India: Authorities continued to enforce laws designed to protect “religious sentiments” which, according to observers, at times had the effect of limiting free expression related to religion. On September 24, police in Rustampura, Gujarat arrested Mehdi Hasan, a Muslim cleric, on charges of insulting Hindus’ religious sentiments after a member of the Hindu community complained about Hasan’s comments during an interview with a Gujarati newspaper. During the interview, Hasan reportedly labeled those who honored the nine-day Hindu festival Navratri as “demonic.” Hasan remained in judicial custody until serving out his sentence on October 2. …

Raif Badawi, a young Saudi Arabian blogger and activist for reform was charged with apostasy. Eventually, after months of court proceedings, he was convicted of the lesser charge of “insulting Islam,” sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, and given a penalty of 1000 lashes. What he had done was simply speak his mind about his country, his government, and his religion. Badawi remains a prisoner of conscience, jailed for his beliefs and for speaking his mind.

You can access the full report and its almost 200 distinct country entries here.


Pakistan’s Top Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Murder Case

From The Guardian:

A former police bodyguard revered as a hero by Pakistani conservatives for killing a politician who criticised the country’s blasphemy laws has had his death sentence upheld.
In ordinary circumstances there would never be any doubt about which way the supreme court decision would go: Mumtaz Qadri is unrepentent at having shot dead Salmaan Taseer, then governor of Punjar, as he left a restaurant in a busy Islamabad market in January 2011. But moderates have claimed the ruling is a sign of a change in official attitudes towards religious extremism.

In the months before his murder, Taseer had sparked anger among religious conservatives by taking up the cause of Asia Bibi, a poor Christian woman who had been sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad.

Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer and head of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, hailed the upholding of Qadri’s conviction for murder as a “brave decision” and “the first step in introducing some rational discourse on blasphemy”.

The only thing now standing between Qadri and execution is an appeal for a presidential pardon, which few expect to be granted.

You can read the entire article here.

Read more news

The Campaign for Free Expression is an initiative of the Center for Inquiry (CFI) to focus the public's attention and efforts on one of the most basic and foundational human rights: the freedom to express yourself. We hope you join us.