At the Washington Post, Ishan Tharoor has collected some of the writings of bloggers killed in Bangladesh over the past year. Here is one example:
Niloy Chatterjee, who went by the pen name Niloy Neel, was murdered in August in his apartment, his body brutally mutilated by his attackers. “His blood [was] spattered all over the books he loved,” noted a Bangladeshi secularist blog. Not long after the death of Das, Chatterjee had posted a notice on his Facebook page detailing an incident where be believed he was being tailed by suspicious individuals.
“I was quite scared, and hurried into a unfamiliar alley. Later when I looked back, I noticed that another young man, who had also been on the bus, had joined this young man, and they had not followed me into the alley; they were waiting at the alley entrance. Then I was quite certain that I was being followed,” he wrote.
He said that he tried to file a complaint, but no police officers would accept it. “A police officer had told me in confidence that the police do not want to accept” such complaints, Chatterjee explained with bemusement, because then the officer would have to be “accountable to ensure the personal safety of said individual. If the said individual faces any difficulty, then the relevant police officer may even lose his job for negligence in duty.” Then he was told: “Leave the country as soon as possible.”
You can read the full article here.
The Center for Inquiry has led a coalition effort to urge the State Department to strengthen its engagement with the Bangladesh government to ensure that the rights to freedom of religion, belief, and expression are fully protected within the country.
Signatories to this letter incude Freedom House, PEN America, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the Hindu American Foundation, and the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.
The letter, which was sent to Secretary of State John Kerry and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein, stated in part:
As you might recall, we wrote to you exactly you one year ago (April 22, 2015) with serious concerns regarding deadly attacks on religious minorities, atheists, and secularists in Bangladesh. In particular, on February 26, 2015, Islamic extremists armed with machetes attacked writer and activist Avijit Roy while Roy was leaving a book fair in Dhaka, which he was visiting with his wife, Rafida Bonya Ahmed. Roy, a naturalized U.S. citizen well known in Bangladesh for authoring numerous books and founding the freethought forum Mukto-Mona (Free-mind), was killed; Ahmed, also a naturalized U.S. citizen who wrote prominently on evolutionary biology, was critically injured, but survived. Just one month later, on March 30, 2015, Washiqur Rahman — a 27-year-old atheist who expressed criticisms of religious fundamentalism on social media — was, like Roy, brutally murdered in the same fashion by machete-wielding Islamic extremists.
Disturbingly, what we had hoped would be tragic anomalies have become almost normal in Bangladesh. On May 12, 2015, Ananta Bijoy Das was killed by a group of men armed with machetes in Sylhet; on August 7, 2015, Niloy Neel was killed by a group of six men armed with machetes who tricked their way into Niloy’s home in Dhaka, locked his partner in a room, and proceeded to hack Niloy to death; and on October 31, 2015, Faisal Arefin Deepan, a Muslim publisher of secularist books, including those of Avijit Roy, was killed by machete-wielding assailants at his Jagriti Prokashoni publishing house. The same day, three others — Ahmedur Rashid Tutul, Tariq Rahim, and Ranadipam Basu — were seriously injured in a similar attack at the Shudhdhoswar publishing house.
And, just days ago, on April 6, 2016, the pattern continued as Nazimuddin Samad, a student at Jagannath University, was attacked and killed by several suspected Islamic extremists while returning home from class. Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) claimed this attack, as they have several others on atheists in the country.
But perhaps more disturbing than the attacks themselves has been the responses by the Bangladesh government. The government has not issued any formal statements of support for murdered or threatened religious minorities, atheists, or secularists. Few arrests have been made in the recent murders, and no charges have been filed. Several of the attacks occurred in public areas with witnesses, raising serious questions as to how and why suspects have not been identified or charged. And threatened secularist writers and publishers who remain in the country and have requested assistance from law enforcement have been told to self-censor or else leave the country if they desire safety.
The crisis also impacts U.S. foreign interests. While it is true that homegrown extremists have been responsible for most of the violent attacks in Bangladesh, there is no doubt that their activity — and the government’s actions, which have fueled extremism or else let it go unimpeded — has created a perfect breeding ground for foreign terrorist groups such as Daesh and AQIS. Indeed, there are now credible reports that these groups have sympathizers operating in the country.
We therefore urge you to continue your engagement with government and law enforcement officials in Bangladesh to ensure they recognize the value of strongly defending democratic values and the fundamental human rights. In particular, we urge you to pressure the Bangladesh government to speak publicly in defense of the rights to exercise freedom of religion, belief, and expression, and to work with law enforcement officials on the ground to ensure threatened individuals and groups are protected, and extremists who are responsible for the murders of minorities are rooted out and brought to justice.
You can read the full letter here.
Nearly one year after Avijit Roy was murdered while leaving the Ekushey Book Fair in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Benar News reports that Roy’s books are not being sold by any of the 100 publishers at this year’s fair out of fear that could meet the same fate:
Nearly a year after secular writer and blogger Avijit Roy was stabbed to death by suspected militants during Bangladesh’s premier book festival, his works are no longer for sale in the South Asian country, publishing sources say.
About 100 publishers are participating in this year’s edition of the Ekushey Boi Mela (Ekushey Book Fair), which opened Monday – but none are selling books by Roy, who was murdered on a busy Dhaka street after leaving the event on Feb. 26, 2015.
Abul Bashar, an owner of Hatey Khori publication house, told BenarNews: “Why should we sell his books? Is there any guarantee that we will not meet similar fate?”
To make matters worse, the Dhaka Tribune reports:police have raided a stall at this year’s fair over concerns that books being sold by the vendor could hurt “religious sentiments.”
Police yesterday shut down yet another stall at the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela for selling a book with content that could hurt “religious sentiments” and detained three people in this connection.
In a raid, conducted around 4pm, led by Shahbagh police station officer-in-charge (OC) Abu Bakar Siddique, the stall of Badwip Prakashan, located at the Suhrawardy Udyan part of the fair, was shut down.
They also seized copies of several books including Islam Bitorko (the Islam debate), which is a collection of essays compiled by Shamsuzzoha Manik, also owner of the publishing house.
The detainees are: Shamsuzzoha, Shamsul Alam, the stall’s manager, and Fakir Taslim Uddin Kajol, owner of the book’s printing press.
The Shahbagh OC said last night that they had detained Shamsul when he went to the police station after the stall was shut down. Later, they went to Shamsuzzoha’s Mirpur residence along with Shamsul, and detained the publisher from there. Meanwhile, another two-member team of police detained the printer from his office in Katabon.
Section 13.13 of the book fair “Rules and Regulations” booklet says that before closing a stall, authorities will give a deadline to the publisher for removing books with objectionable content. If the publisher fails to comply, then the authorities will close the stall.
However, the Dhaka Tribune has not found any evidence that could suggest that Badwip was given any such deadline or cautioned before the drive.
Until last evening, publisher Shamsuzzoha also could not be reached for a comment on if they were given any deadline.
The OC said they conducted the raid after they had found out on social media that people are complaining about the contents of Islam Bitorko.
Nobody from the organisers were accompanying the police team nor were any of them seen around during the raid or could be found for a comment.
We will be tracking this situation and provide updates as possible.
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.
Samanth Subramanian has filed an in-depth report for the December 21, 2015 issue of The New Yorker on the human rights crisis in Bangladesh:
On the afternoon of February 26th, Avijit Roy was in Dhaka, finishing a column for BDNews24, a Bangladeshi Web site of news and commentary. Its title, in Bengali, was “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?,” and it adapted ideas from his new book, a primer on cosmology. For Roy, who was forty-two, science trumped religion. He took after his father, Ajoy, an emeritus physics professor at Dhaka University and an ardent rationalist. “I don’t bother about whether God exists,” Ajoy Roy told me. “Let him do his business, and let me do my business.” Avijit, even more vocal than his father, liked to compare faith to a virus—infecting human beings and impelling them into conflict. He once wrote, “The vaccine against religion is to build up a scientific approach.”
Roy and his wife, Rafida Ahmed, an executive at a credit-rating agency, lived in Atlanta. They had fallen in love from afar: in 2001, Roy started a collective blog called Mukto Mona, or Free Thinker, and Ahmed wrote to him after reading one of his posts, agreeing with his dismissal of religion as “fairy tales.” In 2006, Roy moved to Atlanta, where he worked as a software architect. But his real interests emerged in his blog posts, and in several books in which he dismantled the dogmas of religious belief—of his own Hindu background, but also of Islam, the state religion in Sunni-majority Bangladesh. “He was an addabaaj,” his father said. He used the word to mean “gossip,” but it also hinted at his son’s love of argument.
Mukto Mona’s comments section often drew irate Islamists, and Roy waded into earnest debates with them. He could seem as inflexible as the people he bickered with, refusing to acknowledge any grace or meaning that religion might grant its faithful. When one commenter claimed that the Koran was a repository of scientific wisdom, Roy asked why the Islamic world was “so behind in science and technology?,” and added, “Even Israel has more scientists than all the Muslim countries nowadays.” His father warned him that he was “too passionate.” On Facebook, one extremist wrote, “Avijit Roy lives in America, so it’s not possible to kill him right now. But he will be killed when he comes back.”
When Roy told his parents that he planned to visit in February, his father tried to dissuade him. “Dhaka is now not a very good place. The law-and-order situation is worsening day by day,” Ajoy Roy said. “I pointed out, ‘You’re a targeted person. Your name has been publicized as an atheist.’ ”
Roy and Ahmed went anyway, staying at her family’s house, not far from the city center. After finishing his column, Roy wanted to visit the Ekushey Book Fair, where hundreds of booksellers and publishers gather every February to celebrate Bengali literature. Ahmed and Roy attended an event hosted by Roy’s publisher before browsing through a section of children’s books. A photograph on Facebook shows them sitting on the ground. Roy, wearing a red kurta, is looking down; next to him, Ahmed reaches into a paper bag for a snack.
At around 8 P.M., as they walked toward their rented car, a young boy asked Roy for a handout. He gave the boy a hundred takas—a little more than a dollar—and an admonition to go home. Ahmed doesn’t recall the men who rushed at Roy and hacked at him with machetes, and she doesn’t recall trying to stop them. She received several wounds to her head and another that severed her left thumb. Later, in photographs of the attack, she noticed that there had been policemen standing nearby; they did nothing to intervene. Roy fell to the sidewalk, face down; his attackers dropped their weapons and ran away. By the time his father reached the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, Roy was dead.
Roy’s murder was claimed by a Twitter account belonging to the Ansarullah Bangla Team, an Islamic militant group. He was an American citizen, the tweets noted, and his death avenged the actions of the United States against ISIS. A Bangladeshi police official called the group the “closest relative” of Al Qaeda on the Indian subcontinent, and it has been linked to the murders of at least five other secular voices—the first in 2013, but the others since Roy’s death, at the rate of roughly one every other month. In October, when I visited Dhaka, there had been no attacks for eleven weeks, and the writers I met seemed to be steeling themselves for bad news. Three days after I left, Roy’s publisher was killed in his office, and, elsewhere in the city, another publisher and two bloggers were attacked.
Of the six who have died, four were on a list of eighty-four “atheist bloggers,” which was sent anonymously to newspapers in 2013. In nearly every attack, the weapon has been a machete. Two dozen suspects have been arrested, but so much doubt persists over the killings—and over the government’s handling of them—that Dhaka is rife with conspiracy theories. Some of the bloggers who number among the eighty-four revealed suspicions that the state’s security agencies ordered the hits.
Ahmed and Roy hadn’t anticipated Bangladesh’s lurch into murderous extremism. “I don’t think we missed it because we were away,” Ahmed told me. “I think this is a sudden shift, but it has been cooking for a while.” A few days before his death, Ahmed said, Roy had given her a tour of the places where he grew up. “We walked around the university campus. He showed me where he lived when he was little. He showed me his elementary school. He used to say, ‘Who will touch me in my own neighborhood?’ ”
You can read the full article here.
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.
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.
An international coalition of atheist and humanist organizations, led by the Center for Inquiry and our partners the International Humanist and Ethical Union and CFI-Canada will protest the arrest and persecution of atheist bloggers and other dissenters in Bangladesh with demonstrations in Washington, D.C., London, Ottawa, Dhaka, and other cities around the world on Thursday, May 2.
Bangladesh has recently been at the center of a human rights crisis as authorities have detained several prominent atheist bloggers for “hurting religious sentiments,” followed by the arrest of a newspaper editor who printed quotations from the targeted bloggers, and two more young people for making “derogatory remarks” about Islam on Facebook. Tens of thousands of people have rallied in the country’s capital to demand more arrests, tougher blasphemy laws, and have threatened violence if their demands are not met soon.
With these unprecedented demonstrations, secularists around the world will express their solidarity with those jailed for speaking their minds about religion. Protesters will draw global attention to the plight of those persecuted for exercising their rights to freedom of belief and expression, and attempt to spur the international community to take action and compel the government of Bangladesh to change course.
“The events in Bangladesh are only the latest instance of a fierce global crackdown on ‘blasphemy,’ with the criminalization of atheism and religious dissent,” said protest coordinator Michael De Dora, director of CFI’s Office of Public Policy. “To all those who believe that the freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, we call upon you to join us, religious believer and atheist alike. We can show those whose lives and freedoms are threatened that they are not forgotten, and send a message to these oppressive regimes that their abuses will not be ignored.”
May 2 Protests so far confirmed:
- Washington, DC: Embassy of Bangladesh, 3510 International Drive NW, Washington, D.C. 20008. 4:30 pm ET. Details here.
- Ottawa: High Commission for Bangladesh, Constitution Square Centre, 340 Albert St, Ottawa, Ontario K1R 7Y6. 4:30 pm ET. Details here.
- Calgary: Consulate of Bangladesh, 633 6th Avenue South West, T2P 2Y6. 4:30 pm MT. Details here.
- Toronto: Eaton Centre, 214-2 College St., Toronto, Ontario M5G 1K3. 12 pm ET. Details here.
London: The British Humanist Association is holding a leafleting protest from 10-4 p.m. outside the Bangladesh High Commission in London. Volunteers are asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
28 Queen’s Gate London SW7 5JA
- Dhaka: Press Club, 4:30pm in UTC+07. (Independently organized)
More cities and events to be announced soon. Keep checking back here for new information. To coordinate an event in your area, please contact email@example.com.
Twitter hashtag: #DefendDissent
Facebook event: here
Learn more about those persecuted for blasphemy and dissent at the Campaign for Free Expression, www.centerforinquiry.net/cfe.
CFI is a signatory to the Day of Action declaration in support of the persecuted bloggers begun by activist Maryam Namazie.
Special thanks to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science for their promotional help.
Note: Due to the National Day of Mourning in Bangladesh on April 25, protests by the Center for Inquiry, CFI-Canada, and the British Humanist Association were postponed to May 2. Other groups, including the American Atheists and Secular Coalition for America, protested April 25.