Coalition Urges State Department to Help Threatened Publishers, Writers in Bangladesh

December 21, 2015

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) has joined seven leading advocacy organizations in sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that urges the State Department to provide humanitarian parole to threatened publishers and writers in Bangladesh.

Humanitarian parole is a U.S. program to bring individuals who are otherwise inadmissible into the country for a temporary period of time due to a compelling emergency.

The letter states in part:

We write on behalf of several leading organizations that represent writers and publishers and defend freedom of expression to convey our deep concern regarding a group of targeted Bangladeshi writers, bloggers, and publishers who are in urgent danger due to their secular beliefs and writings. Five among them have been killed by Islamist extremist groups this year alone, and dozens more have been publicly threatened. The government of Bangladesh has not provided adequate protection to those at risk and, in some cases, has promoted the idea that these bloggers should self-censor in order to deter attacks against them—or that they should leave the country. In what appears to be a concession to appease Islamist groups, Bangladeshi officials have also arrested secular bloggers on charges of insulting religious sentiments in the past.

We write to urge the U.S. government to provide humanitarian parole for a limited number of high-profile Bangladeshi secularists at imminent risk of attack. The dire situation that these writers face fits the criteria and high threshold applicable to the granting of humanitarian parole.

We understand that these visas are designated for emergency circumstances in which there is no other recourse for the individuals at risk. This situation applies here. These writers are unable to seek protection from their own government and are under threat of deadly attack from identifiable non-state groups who have acted on their threats and rhetoric repeatedly in the past. Humanitarian parole is these writers’ only option, as they are otherwise unable to leave the country. As they are still in their own country, they do not qualify for assistance from UNHCR and are not displaced. These visas would provide the only form of relief in this situation. If the United States is unable to grant humanitarian parole to all writers facing these circumstances, we would urge you to mobilize likeminded governments so that other international placements can be secured, including in countries that can offer expedited refugee determinations

As human rights and free expression organizations, we have received numerous requests from Bangladeshi bloggers, who have written to us in the hope that we can help by providing them with avenues for relocation. The State Department is deeply committed to securing internet freedom, and a visible effort to protect these individuals—many of whom do their principal work online—would be a powerful gesture of support to a community that is paying the highest price for the exercise of their freedom online. As non-governmental organizations, we do not provide legal advice or representation, and cannot secure visas for these individuals. Due to these constraints, we are writing to you to highlight the extremely dangerous nature of their situation and to ask for humanitarian parole that will prevent their deaths. Parole determinations would be made on a case-by-case basis, following an individual assessment. Should parole be secured, we stand ready to mobilize our networks to assist these writers once they arrive in the United States.

You can read the full letter here

Other organizations signing the letter include PEN American Center, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, City of Asylum Pittsburgh, and the Association of American Publishers. 

Copies of the letter were also sent to Marcia Bernicat, U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh; Scott Busby, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; Nisha Desai Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs; and Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 

CFI previously wrote to the State Department regarding the human rights situation in Bangladesh in April 2013

You can learn more about CFI’s work to defend freedom of expression here.