PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Fidalgo
Phone: (207) 358-9785
E-mail: press@centerforinquiry.net

After Murders in Bangladesh, Diverse Coalition Urges U.S. to Protect Free Expression

April 23, 2015

In the aftermath of the gruesome murders of secularist writers Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman, and the near-killing of Rafida Bonya Ahmed, by Islamic militants, a diverse coalition is urging the U.S. State Department to use its influence to protect the rights to freedom of expression and religious dissent in Bangladesh. 

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) and the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) sent a letter Thursday to Secretary of State John Kerry and International Religious Freedom Ambassador David Saperstein, that spells out the dire circumstances faced by critics of fundamentalist religion, specifically Islam, in Bangladesh. Signatories to the letter, which were organized through the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, include individuals and organizations concerned about human rights, both religious and nonreligious. 

In February, Dr. Avijit Roy, a U.S. citizen and secularist writer, was hacked to death by assailants with machetes in Dhaka, likely on the orders of Islamic militant leaders. His wife, fellow writer Rafida Bonya Ahmed, was also attacked, but thankfully survived, though with terrible injuries including the loss of a finger. Last month, 27-year-old atheist blogger Washiqur Rahman was murdered in Dhaka in the same way. The government of Bangladesh has itself persecuted its nonreligious citizens, as in 2013 when seven atheist bloggers were imprisoned for “blasphemy” at the commands of Islamic extremist groups. 

Additionally, over the years Bangladeshi leaders have made several changes to the Constitution and the country’s laws demanded by Islamic militants which have virtually ensured that all religious minorities — Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and the non-religious — are second-class citizens. 

In its letter, the coalition takes to task the government of Bangladesh for lending legitimacy to Islamic militants, and also criticizes the international community for failing to hold Bangladesh accountable for its failure to protect the most basic human rights. “Such systemic failures within the government over the past several decades to curb intimidation and violence towards religious minorities, regardless of the party affiliation of the political officials involved, has enabled an atmosphere of impunity for extremist activity,” states the coalition. 

The coalition recommends the promotion of interreligious dialogue as a means to combatting the threat posed by Islamic militants. “Instead of jailing peaceful supporters of secular government, or seeking to appease religious extremists, Bangladeshi officials should focus on cracking down on individuals and groups that advocate and cheer for the deaths of activists such as Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman.”

To pressure Bangladesh to protect its citizens’ right to free expression, the coalition recommends the U.S. withhold financial and military support until “robust oversight by the State Department and Congress indicates the general improvement for conditions of religious minorities.”

The complete letter is available at bit.ly/CFIBangladeshDOS

Complete list of signatories: 

Organizations:

American Humanist Association

Center For Inquiry

Christian Solidarity Worldwide – United Kingdom

Hindu American Foundation

Human Rights Law Foundation

Institute On Religion And Democracy

International Humanist And Ethical Union

International Institute For Religious Freedom

Jubilee Campaign

Law And Liberty Trust

Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church Of America

Secular Coalition for America

Individuals:

C Naseer Ahmad

Joseph K. Grieboski 
President and CEO 
Grieboski Global Strategies, LLC 

Ronald A. Lindsay
President and CEO
Center for Inquiry 

Brent McBurney 
President and CEO 
Advocates International 

Scott Morgan 
President 
Red Eagle Enterprises 

Roy Speckhardt 
Executive Director 
American Humanist Association 

William C. Walsh 
Human Rights Attorney 
Bisceglie and Walsh

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI‘s web address is www.centerforinquiry.net.