The week in blasphemy-related news and views, our 28th issue:
- Bangladesh: Fourth atheist blogger murder in 2015
- Bangladesh: After another bloody murder, ignorance and betrayal
- Saudi Arabia: Supreme Court may be reviewing Raif Badawi case
- Thailand: Two women arrested for dancing because something about morals and religion
- New Zealand: humanists protest new “stealth” ‘blasphemy’ law
- Pakistan parliamentarians apparently talk the talk, but will they walk the walk?
- The Christian and the Humanist – on the right to freedom of religion or belief
Bangladesh: Fourth atheist blogger murder in 2015
Last Friday afternoon, Niladri Chatterjee, known by his pen name Niloy Neel, was murdered by a group of men who deceived their way into this building and butchered him with a machete. It’s the latest in a string of murders of Bangladeshi writers and bloggers who all identified variously as humanist, atheist, freethinkers or secularists.
Following the first such murder, in 2013, the authorities conceded to Islamist demands and arrested several bloggers under laws against ‘hurting religious sentiments’ in online communications. It is impossible to know for sure if these prosecutions emboldened the Islamist hit mobs, but it certainly has not slowed them down.
On last week’s murder of Niloy Neel, our partners CFI reported:
His is the fourth such assassination in 2015 alone, beginning with the hacking to death of renowned writer and activist Avijit Roy in February. These Al Qaeda-linked militants are openly waging a terror campaign of assassinations of targeted secularist bloggers. News reports indicate that Dhaka police ignored earlier complaints from Neel that he feared for his life.
“What was already a human rights crisis has now spun entirely out of control, and it is now long overdue for the government of Bangladesh to take seriously its moral responsibility to protect the lives of its people,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry (CFI). “But this problem goes deeper than just Bangladesh. The world can no longer sit by and allow this global crackdown on free expression, by both terror groups and states alike, to continue. The rights to free expression and dissent must be protected and cherished, and these killings must be stopped now.”
Andrew Copson, President of our partner the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) said:
“This latest murder demonstrates once again that the culture of impunity for these Islamist vigilantes in Bangladesh has become firmly entrenched. Humanists internationally are calling on global civil society and democratic governments to stand with the bloggers of Bangladesh whose rights to freedom of religion or belief, to freedom of expression, and to life are being routinely negated. Freedom of speech and the rule of law are being undermined and the Government of Bangladesh needs to act to restore them or continue to lose some of its bravest, most thoughtful, and inspiring citizens, to its continuing shame.”
The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the killing:
“He calls on the Government of Bangladesh to bring those responsible for the murder of Mr. Neel and the other bloggers to justice in an expeditious manner and act to ensure that all Bangladeshis can enjoy freedom of expression and all other human rights without fear.”
The Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression, David Kaye, and on extrajudicial executions, Christof Heyns, said in a news release issued yesterday that the violent killing of another critical voice in Bangladesh shows that serious threats to freedom of expression persist in the country.
“It is vital to ensure the identification of those responsible for this and the previous horrendous crimes, as well as those who may have masterminded the attacks.”
There’s a round-up of further responses under the headline “Bangladesh’s continuing shame” over at Canadian Atheist.
Bangladesh: After another bloody murder, ignorance and betrayal of democratic values
Astoundingly, in the days following this most recent murder, Bangladesh state authorities and political institutions made matters worse in a series of unfortunate pronouncements.
Islamist organizations including political institutions such as the Awami Olama League, an Islamist group closely-associated with the ruling Awami League party, reiterated calls to implement a death penalty for those voicing non-religious views in general!
In an extraordinarily myopic and backward statement, the Inspector General of Police threatened bloggers — the very people being killed — with arrest.
Two days after the murder of Niladri Chatterjee Niloy who said he was refused a complaint [i.e. he tried to seek protection from the police], the inspector general of police (IGP) has advised the bloggers not to write blogs that may hurt religious sentiments.
AKM Shahidul Hoque’s call comes at a time when police are drawing harsh criticisms over their failure to solve the cases of killings of four bloggers in six months this year.
At a press briefing at the Police Headquarters on Sunday, he also suggested notifying police if anyone’s blog was found to be offensive to religions.
“There will always be free thinkers. I have enough respect for them. But we need to remember that hurting religious sentiments is a crime according to our law.
“Any offender of religious beliefs may get the highest punishment of 14 years (in jail). But killing someone for that offence is never acceptable,” said Hoque.
He said if anyone was sued for hurting religious feelings, that person would be brought to justice.
“Those who are free thinkers and writers, I will request them, please make sure that we don’t cross the line. Anything that may hurt anyone’s religious sentiments or beliefs should not be written,” he added.
And a Cabinet Committee no less said that atheist writers in general were “criminals”, with the Home Minister later repeating the same message that bloggers should be arrested.
Of course, such arrests have been made in the past, and could be made again, under Bangladesh’s quasi-‘blasphemy’ laws.
As Spiked Online argued: “We Must Be Free To Hurt Muslims’ Feelings”. They were responding specifically against the police stance on arresting bloggers, which they called an “extraordinary act of victim-blaming — which can be summarised as ‘Shut the hell up if you want to live’”:
Yet even though the police chief’s response to Neel’s killing sounds callous and censorious, doesn’t it also sound familiar? If you want to stay safe, don’t cross the line… where have we heard this before? We heard it after the Charlie Hebdomassacre. And again following the shooting at a free-speech event in Copenhgan in February. But then, it wasn’t a foreign police boss who was basically saying ‘Silence yourself if you want to live’ — it was liberals, Europe’s chattering classes, even the literary set, all of whom expressed the idea that murdered critics of Islam are responsible for their deaths long before Haque’s hamfisted response to the murder of Neel.
In a powerful editorial, Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam rounded on the authorities in the name of free expression:
With each blogger’s murder, Bangladesh’s founding ideals of being a country of freedom, rights, and creativity for a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural people are being eroded, weakened, and brought closer to being destroyed. This is no longer a question of government, party or ideological leanings. It is a question of survival of the Bangladesh our martyrs had laid down their lives for and those of us who work for it today dream for.
Collectively, we all–the government, the intellectuals, the civil society, the media, etc– are failing our country and our people. If the war criminals, now being prosecuted and punished, tried to destroy us at birth, the blogger-killers are trying to destroy us now. However the unity, determination and strength with which we fought our enemies then are totally absent now. The present assault on our existence is far more insidious and difficult to fight against as we are divided and the ‘enemy’ is far more difficult to identify. There is only one way to defeat this ‘second’ attack on our Mukti Juddho and that is to really forget all our differences and take the plunge to destroy this threat as soon as possible.
The government’s lack of commitment exemplified by its law enforcement agencies is shameful to say the least. The performance of police has been abysmal to put it mildly. Except in the case of Ahmed Rajiv Haider, the first blogger to be killed in February, 2013, in no other instances– Avijit Roy, Oyasiqur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Das and now of Niladri Chattopadhyay, –can the police claim any credible progress.
Today (Friday), it was reported that two men have now been arrested in connection with Niloy Neel’s murder, including the son of a high-ranking government Minister. At least one of the suspects was arrested and released previously in connection with a previous killing; it is not yet clear whether this is a case of arresting ‘usual suspects’ (either for show, or for speculative investigation) or whether it’s a sign of a real breakthrough.
Saudi Arabia: Supreme Court may be reviewing Raif Badawi case
A Supreme Court decision earlier this year to uphold the horrendous 10-year and 1000-lashes sentence against liberal blogger Raif Badawi was thought to have been the last legal recourse as such. However, this week his wife – now living in exile in Canada – told The Independent newspaper that a “senior source” in the Saudi Ministry of Justice had told her that the Supreme Court was again reviewing the case, though exactly how or why remains a mystery:
The Christian and the Humanist
In an article for Huffington Post, Andrew Copson (of International Humanist and Ethical Union) and Benedict Rogers (of Christian Solidarity Worldwide) discussed wide-ranging violations of the right to ‘freedom of religion or belief’, arguing that “Freedom of Religion or Belief Is the Most Basic Right of All, It Affects Us All, And It Is Under Increasing Threat Worldwide“. Or in other words:
Freedom of thought, conscience or religion, as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is the most basic right of all – the right to choose what to believe, to practice your beliefs, to share your beliefs with others in a non-coercive way, and to change your beliefs. It protects the rights of people of all religions, and the right to have no religion. And it is increasingly under threat throughout the world.
They noted that violations of this right include “restrictive and abusive laws, such as those criminalising ‘blasphemy’ or banning conversion, which are wide open to interpretation and manipulation.”