Couple Finds Sanctuary in Canada to Escape Killings of Writers in Bangladesh

The Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada has published a feature article on a couple who escaped the killings of writers in Bangladesh, and found safe haven in Canada:

For writer Raihan Abir and his pregnant wife, Samia Hossain, the morning commute by motorcycle meant weaving through the clogged roads and crawling traffic of the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka – dodging cars, rickshaws and rickety buses crammed with workers.

But there was another reason to constantly scan the road over the hour-long trip: They worried that among the teeming crowds of commuters lurked vicious assassins.

“Whenever we started out of the house,” Samia recalled, “he used to ride the motorcycle and I used to look backward all the time to make sure no one’s following us or going to do anything to us.”

Since February, religious extremists have tightened the net around atheist and secular writers in Bangladesh. They have picked off the young couple’s closest friends in gruesome machete attacks carried out in the street, in the home and in publishing offices – leaving five dead and four others seriously injured.

The victims had been challenging religion in blogs and in books, and Raihan, prominent in that circle, feared he would be next. After dropping Samia off at work, he would often continue on to the university where he was studying, parking his motorcycle but keeping his helmet on despite the 30-degree heat. The attackers – if they did come – would likely use machetes to target the head.

“At least I’ll survive the first attack,” Raihan said.

He thought he could evade the extremists – and salvage his life in a city of more than 15 million people.

He would be wrong.

This is the story of how Raihan and Samia escaped the fate of their friends, and of the Canadians who helped them find safety.

Keep reading here.

We should note that Raihan and Samia are recipients of support from the Center for Inquiry’s Freethought Emergency Fund.  You can support this fund here.

LGBT Activist Found Guilty of Violating Russia’s “Gay Propaganda” Law

Human Rights Watch reports that last month, a Russian court found a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights activist guilty of violating the country’s “gay propaganda” law:

Alekseenko was the director of Maximum, a Murmansk LGBT rights group that provided legal and psychosocial support. The Leninsky District Court in Murmansk, in northwestern Russia, found certain items posted on the Maximum’s website violated the law banning the dissemination of positive information about LGBT relationships to children and, as the director, Alekseenko was found responsible and fined 100,000 rubles (about US$1,300) for the alleged “propaganda.”

HRW is calling on Russian prosecutors to support an appeal, which the activist, Sergei Alekseenko, plans to file in the coming days.

You can read more here.

Columnist Fatema Naout Gets 3 Years in Jail for Blasphemy

As reported by the Egypt Independent:

A Cairo misdemeanor court sentenced columnist Fatema Naout to three years in jail and a LE20,000 fine over charges of blasphemy.
The writer was found guilty of insulting Islam in a 2014 Facebook post in which she labelled the Islamic ritual of slaughtering sheep and distributing their meat as charity for the poor during the Islamic feast of Eid al-Adha as a “massacre.”
She denied that her post was meant to commit blasphemy, but stressed that the ritual of slaughtering sheep is a harmful act against animals in disguise.
Thanks for the good judges of Egypt, thanks for two great revolutions that placed Egypt on the road to enlightenment,” Naout wrote on Facebook, commenting on the verdict. “Three years in jail and a fine for a Facebook post! Thanks to everybody.”


You can find the article here. We will continue to track this case and provide updates as needed.

Saudis Release Human Rights Activist Samar Badawi

Last week, the Center for Inquiry was amongst the first organizations to learn and report that Saudi human rights activist Samar Badawi had been arrested for allegedly operating the Twitter account of her husband, jailed human rights attorney Waleed Abu al-Khair. Ms. Badawi is also the sister of jailed dissident Raif Badawi, and Mr. al-Khair was Mr. Badawi’s lawyer before he himself was jailed.

Immediately upon learning of the development, CFI issued a statement calling for Badawi’s unconditional release:

“I have worked personally with Samar, and she is one of the most impressive, courageous, and devoted activists I have ever met,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s main representative to the United Nations, who met Ms. Badawi at the UN Human Rights Council in September 2014 when CFI spoke out behalf of her husband. “She is a shining example of the kind of meaningful impact an individual can have, despite incredible odds and unthinkable oppression. Her detention now speaks to how desperate and inhuman Saudi Arabia has become to intimidate, silence, and punish critics.”

“When Secretary Clinton presented Samar with the Women of Courage award, she told her, ‘You are making a difference, and we thank you for that,” noted De Dora. “The State Department can best thank her, right now, by doing all they can to secure her freedom and safety, and Secretary Clinton and First Lady Obama should use their platforms as globally admired figures to rally the world to this cause.”

Fortunately, she was released after about one day. CNN reports:

Samar Badawi, a notable human rights activist in Saudi Arabia, was released Wednesday after being detained by law enforcement the day before.

Gen. Mansour al-Turki, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said that Badawi was not arrested, contrary to the claims of multiple human rights activists. Rather, “she was subject to a questioning session by the district police upon the request of the bureau of investigation and public prosecution,” according to al-Turki.

Ali Adubisi, director of the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, said Badawi returned home.

“According to what I know up to this moment, there are no subsequent steps relating to an investigation or a trial,” he said.

Badawi’s case appeared to be connected to her role in lobbying for the release of her brother, Raif, and her former spouse, Waleed Abu al-Khair. Their imprisonments have drawn the ire of human rights and free speech advocates.

 We will continue to track this case and provide updates when possible.

6 Ways You Can Help Raif Badawi and Other Activists in Saudi Arabia

A year after the international outcry over his public flogging, Raif Badawi, as well as dozens of other human rights activists including Waleed Abu al-Khair, remain imprisoned in Saudi Arabia.

In an effort to multiply voices calling for the release of Badawi and other activists, and for respect for basic human rights in Saudi Arabia, our friends over at Amnesty International have put together a short list of six ways you can get involved in demanding action.

Keep reading here.

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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.