There have been a string of brutal killings against those who are said to have “blasphemed” or have shared political and religious views that are contrary to the views held by the Islamic extremists perpetrating the attacks. Human rights groups are fighting back – but it’s an uphill struggle against the a political culture that blames the victims themselves!
In April 2016 Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina blamed the victims of these heinous crimes for writing “filthy words”, which local and international commentators have interpreted as an attempt to excuse the government of any responsibility to take action. She further said, “It’s not at all acceptable if anyone writes against our prophet or other religions. Why would the government take responsibility if such writings lead to any untoward incidents?”. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said that he would investigate one of the recent horrific murders of a secular activist, not to seek justice for his death but “to see whether he has written anything objectionable in his blogs.”
Rallying to defend free speech
The first secular writer killed last year was Avijit Roy, who had lived for many years in America. Organizations Center for Inquiry (US) and PEN America have joined together in seeking to end violence against “intellectuals, academics, writers, bloggers, and activists”. A joint statement including sixteen human rights organizations called for a Commission of Inquiry by the United Nations Human Rights Council into the brutal killings “of at least nine writers, bloggers, publishers, academics, and activists in Bangladesh since February 2015” (PEN America).
The joint statement, which anyone can sign as a petition, concludes by pointing out that in the Constitution of Bangladesh, Articles 39 and 41, guarantee all citizens the rights to freedom of conscience and speech, and religion, respectively. Signatories to the statement include Salman Rushdie, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, the PEN American Center, Centre for Inquiry and the Centre for Inquiry – Canada, and many others. Michael De Dora from the Centre for Inquiry the following in response to the way the government of Bangladesh is handing the situation:
“So far, that response has been appalling in its indifference to the lives and the fundamental rights of the people of Bangladesh. To even suggest that these victims brought their deaths upon themselves is to abdicate the most basic responsibilities of a government to its people, and to forsake any pretense to fostering a free, modern society”
Timeline of killings
- February 2015: Avijit Roy Bangladeshi-American citizen, scholar, and secular activist was brutally attacked by a group of men with machetes in Dhaka.
- March 2015: Washiqur Rahman a secular blogger was similarly murdered by a group of men wielding machetes in Dhaka.
- May 2015: Ananta Bijoy Das a secular blogger was killed by masked men with machetes.
- August 2015: Niloy Neel a secular blogger was attacked and died in his home in Dhaka.
- October 2015: Faisal Arefin Dipan: a book publisher who’s work included books written by Avijit Roy was assaulted by the machete wielding men and died. On the same day another publisher was wounded in a similar attack. His name was Ahmedur Rashid Tutul. Both attacks were in Dhaka.
- April 2016: Nazimuddin Samad slain for secular campaigning on Facebook. Two gay rights activists Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Tonoy were murdered by six men in Dhaka. Nikhil Joarder a Hindu Tailor was hacked to death. The attacks seem to be against any “minority faiths, secularists, foreigners and intellectuals”.
- May 2016: Mir Sanwar Rahman, known for offering villagers free homeopathic medicines was killed in a horrific violent attack led by machete wielding men today in the western district of Kushtia, 245km from Dhaka.
How You Can Help
Sign your name to support the statement discussed above here: bit.ly/BangladeshPetition
Sign up for the End Blasphemy Laws Now Action List here:
The Centre for Inquiry has established the Freethought Emergency Fund, by which writers and activists in countries like Bangladesh who know themselves to be targeted or believe themselves to be in danger can apply to receive assistance. You can donate here: https://secure.centerforinquiry.net/freethought-rescue
On the joint statement: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/newsroom/bangladesh_joint_statement/
Coverage spanning the entire crisis: http://iheu.org/category/location/south-asia/bangladesh
On recent murders:
Cassandra Martino is a legal intern with the Centre for Inquiry Canada.