Coalition condemns Bangladesh government inaction and dangerous rhetoric after violent attacks

Wednesday, May 04, 2016
1 reactions

Bangladeshi_Protesters_Mehdi_Hasan_Khan.jpg

Protesters in Bangladesh. PHOTO: Mehdi Hasan Khan.

We, the undersigned academics, intellectuals, human rights advocates, and organizations from Bangladesh and around the world, unequivocally condemn recent statements by Bangladesh government officials appearing to blame writers, publishers, and activists for their own deaths at the hands of violent extremists with suspected links to militant Islamist groups. We strongly urge the Bangladesh government to immediately take steps to vigorously protect the rights to freedom of religion, belief, and expression, both in word and in deed. 

Since February 2015, there have been six deadly attacks on atheist, humanist, and secularist writers, bloggers, and publishers in Bangladesh, all by machete-wielding militants. On February 26, 2015, Avijit Roy, founder of the freethought forum Mukto-Mona, was killed while leaving a book fair, which he was visiting with his wife, author and activist Rafida Bonya Ahmed. Ahmed survived, but was seriously injured. On March 30, 2015, Washiqur Rahman was killed by a group of extremists while on his way to work. On May 12, 2015, Ananta Bijoy Das was killed in the same fashion. On August 7, 2015, Niloy Neel was killed when six men tricked their way into Niloy's home, locked his partner in a room, and hacked Niloy to death. On October 31, 2015, Faisal Arefin Deepan, a Muslim publisher of secularist books, was killed at his publishing house. The same day, three others — Ahmedur Rashid Tutul, Tariq Rahim, and Ranadipam Basu — were seriously injured in a similar attack at another publishing house. And, on April 6, 2016, law student Nazimuddin Samad was attacked and killed while returning home from class. 

Religious believers, LGBT rights activists, and university professors have also been subjected to threats and violent attacks. Between October and December 2015, 37 Christian leaders received death threats. On November 27, 2015, gunmen attacked a Shia mosque, killing one and injuring three. On December 25, 2015, a suicide bomber injured three at an Ahmadi mosque. On February 21, militants killed a Hindu priest and injured a devotee. On March 15, 2016, a Shia cleric was killed. On April 23, 2016, university English professor Rezaul Karim Siddique was hacked to death on his way to work. On April 24, another Hindu devotee was killed. On April 25, 2016, Xulhaz Mannan, editor of Bangladesh's first LGBT magazine, and a fellow LGBT rights activist and theatre artist, Mahbub Tanay, were stabbed to death. And on April 30, 2016, a Hindu tailor previously arrested and jailed for allegedly making derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad, was hacked to death. 

While some of these attacks have been claimed by native terrorist groups such as Ansarullah Bangla Team and Ansar-al Islam, the Bangladesh branch of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, others have been claimed by Daesh (ISIL). 

The response from the Bangladesh government to these attacks has been extremely disappointing; the response to attacks on atheists and secular activists has been particularly disheartening. No one has yet been held to account for the killings. While some arrests have been made, few charges have been filed against the perpetrators. Some threatened atheists and secularists, who are on public hit lists released by militant Islamist groups suspected in ongoing attacks, have been told to self-censor or go into exile when requesting assistance from law enforcement. Many activists are also hesitant to approach the police, fearing that they could be charged under the Information, Communications, and Technology Act, which criminalizes writings that hurt religious belief. Government officials have failed to take action to help protect and support threatened atheists or secularists, or publicly condemn the killings. Officials have instead distanced themselves from the victims, or even appeared to blame the deceased for their own murders. 

After the murder of Niloy Neel, Prime Minister Hasina stated, “You can’t attack someone else’s religion. You’ll have to stop doing this. It won’t be tolerated if someone else’s religious sentiment is hurt.” After the recent murder of Nazimuddin Samad, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan stated that part of the investigation would be “to see whether he has written anything objectionable in his blogs,” implying that would provide some justification for Samad’s death. Minister Khan would also state, “The bloggers, they should control their writing. … I want to say that people should be careful not to hurt anyone by writing anything — hurt any religion, any people’s beliefs, any religious leaders.” Just days later, Prime Minister Hasina shared similar sentiments, stating in regards to secular bloggers, “I consider such writings as not free thinking but filthy words. Why anyone would write such things? 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? Everyone should maintain decency. Or else the government wouldn’t take the responsibility for any uncivilised attitude.”

One need not agree with another person’s opinions on religion to recognize their right to express those opinions and live in relative peace. The answer to objectionable expression must not be violence, but counter-expression. 

These killings of innocent writers, bloggers, publishers, activists, and religious believers — simply for peacefully exercising their basic freedoms — are robbing Bangladesh of bright minds and brave human rights defenders. It is inexcusable that government officials have, by and large, sided with violent extremists, asked citizens to self-censor, and failed to provide enough protection or hold the killers to account. 

Bangladesh has made commitments to uphold fundamental human rights. The Constitution guarantees all citizens the rights to life (Article 32), freedom of conscience and speech (Article 39), and freedom of religion (Article 41). Additionally, Bangladesh is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the right to life (Article 6), to not be discriminated against on various grounds (Article 2), to freedom of thought, conscience, or religion (Article 18), and to freedom of expression (Article 19). 

These rights include the liberty to adopt or not adopt a religious belief, to change or leave a religion or belief, to observe and manifest one’s religion or belief, either individually or in community, and to speak freely and engage in public discourse about one’s beliefs, ideas, or convictions — without fear of reprisal attacks or government crackdowns. 

We therefore call on: 

  • The Bangladesh government to vigorously protect the full exercise of the freedoms of religion, belief, and expression, threatened atheists, secularists, minorities, and all those exercising their rights in their country;
  • Bangladesh government officials to stop citing religion as a justification to refuse the rights of certain Bangladeshis in public statements, and forcefully and categorically condemn violent attacks on atheists, secularists, minorities, and all those exercising their rights in their country;
  • The Bangladesh government to conduct prompt, thorough, effective, independent, and impartial investigations into the killings since February 2015, and ensure that all those responsible are brought to justice in fair trials which respect international standards;
  • The international community to extend support and provide assistance to Bangladesh to address this human rights crisis.

Signed, 

Individuals

​Aase Gjerdrum
Editor and Translator
 
Ahmad Tabshir Choudhury
National Vice President
External Affairs & Public Relation
Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at, Bangladesh
 
Alan Levinovitz, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Philosophy and Religion
James Madison University
 
Alexis de Roode
Poet
 
Alf R. Jacobsen
Writer
 
Ali Riaz, PhD
University Professor and Chair
Department of Politics and Government
Illinois State University
 
Amanda Sebestyen
Director of Asylum Education and Legal Fund
Member
National Union of Journalists
 
Amit R. Baishya, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Oklahoma
 
Amrapali Basumatary, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Kirori Mal College
University of Delhi
 
Amritjit Singh, PhD
Langston Hughes Professor of English
Ohio University
 
Ananya Azad
Blogger and Writer
 
Ania Loomba, PhD
Catherine Bryson Professor of English
University of Pennsylvania
 
Anindya Kanti Biswas
Editor-in-Chief
kalakinkar.com
 
Anirban Baishya, PhD Candidate
School of Cinematic Arts
University of South California
 
Ann Grodzins Gold, PhD
Chair, Department of Religion
Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and
Professor of Anthropology
Syracuse University
 
Anne B. Reinertsen, PhD
Professor in Education
Queen Maud University College
 
Anu Muhammad, PhD
Professor
Department of Economics
Jahangirnagar University
 
Dr. Ajoy Roy
Retired Professor
University of Dhaka
 
Arifur Rahman
Cartoonist and Member of PEN Norway
 
Arnt Birkedal
Writer
 
Aruni Kashyap
Writer and Translator
Assistant Professor of English
Ashoka University, India
 
Asbjørn Øverås
Editor
 
Åse Brandvold
Journalist and Author
 
Atle Naess
Writer
 
Audity Falguni
Writer, Poet, and Activist
 
Austin Dacey, PhD
Author and Philosopher
 
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Founder
AHA Foundation
 
Bernt Bølviken
Advisor
Aschehoug Publishing House
 
Boris van der Ham
Chairman
Dutch Humanist Association
 
Birgithe Schumann-Olsen
Librarian and Member of PEN Norway
 
Brit Bildøen
Writer
 
Brynjar Bjerkem
Programme Manager
Transnational Arts Production
 
Caroline Halliday
Writer and Artist
 
Choity Ahmed
Editorial Board Member
Anupranan Literary Magazine
 
Christopher Grøndahl
Novelist and Screenwriter
 
Dr. Colin Gonsalves
Senior Advocate
Supreme Court of India
Chairman
Human Rights Law Network
 
Deeyah Khan
Emmy-Award Winning Film Director, Music
Producer, Composer, and Activist
 
Dipen Bhattacharya, PhD
Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy
Moreno Valley College
 
Doranne Jacobson
Research Associate
Columbia University
 
Elham Manea, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Political Science
University of Zurich
 
Elin Ørjasæter
Author
Member, PEN Norway
 
Faizun Zackariya
Citizens' Voice for Justice and Peace
 
Fariborz Pooya
Host, Bread and Roses TV
 
Geraldine Forbes, PhD
Distinguished Teaching Professor Emerita
Department of History
State University of New York at Oswego
 
Grace Westcott
Executive Director
PEN Canada
 
Rev. Gretta Vosper
Minister, United Church of Canada
 
Gro Kjernli
Member, PEN Norway
 
Gudmund Vindland
Novelist
 
Gunn Hild Lem
Writer and Editor
 
Gyrid Axe Øvsteng
Writer
 
Haim Bresheeth
Professorial Research Associate
Faculty of Arts and Humanities
School of Oriental and African Studies
 
Hana Shams Ahmed
Activist and MA Candidate
University of Western Ontario
 
Hanne Herrman
Independent Artist
 
Hans Tarjei Skaare
Teacher
Nansen Academy
 
Harald S. Klungveit
Journalist and Member of PEN Norway
 
Hege Newth Nouri
Secretary General
PEN Norway
 
Hilde Ghosh Maisey
General Manager
Transnational Arts Production
 
Ibn Warraq
Author
 
Ida Lou Larsen
Journalist
 
Inger Sverreson Holmes
Translator
Norwegian Non-Fiction Authors' and Translators' Organisation
 
Imran H. Sarker
Blogger and Secular Activist
 
Iva Gavanski
Advisor, WiPC
PEN Norway
 
Jahanara Nuri
Writer and Human Rights Activist
 
Line Alice Ytrehus, PhD
Professor, Intercultural Studies
NLA University College
Member, PEN Norway
 
Lucy Bland, PhD
Professor of Social and Cultural History
Anglia Ruskin University, Cambride
 
Maajid Nawaz
Author and Activist
Founding Chairman, Quilliam
 
Madhurima Chakraborty, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Columbia College Chicago
 
Makiko Kimura, PhD
Associate Professor
Tsuda College
Shimin Gaikou Centre
Jay Rajiva, PhD
Assistant Professor
Global Anglophone Literature
Department of English
Georgia State University
 
Johanna Fronth-Nygren
Translator and Writer
Member, PEN Norway
 
Jyotirmoy Barua
Barrister at Law
Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh
 
Kaberi Gayen
University of Dhaka
 
Karen Leonard, PhD
Professor Emeritus
Department of Anthropology
University of California, Irvine
 
Khushi Kabir
Feminist and Human Rights Activist
 
Knut Nærum
Writer
 
Kristin Skare Orgeret, PhD
Professor
Department of Journalism and Media Studies
Oslo and Akershus University College
 
Kristina Quintano
Publisher and Translator
 
Kumar Rana
Project Director
Pratichi India Trust
 
Lawrence M. Krauss, PhD
Foundation Professor
School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Department
Director, Origins Project
Arizona State University
 
Mara Matta, PhD
Professor of Modern Literatures of the Indian Subcontinent
Sapienza University of Rome
 
Marieme Helie Lucas
Former Faculty (Social Sciences)
Algiers University
Founder, Secularism Is A Women’s Issue
 
Marius Kolbenstvedt
Actor
 
Maryam Namazie
Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of
Britain and One Law for All
Producer, Bread and Roses TV
 
Maskwaith Ahsan
Author, Journalist, and Educator
 
Massimo Pigliucci
K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy
City College of New York
 
Max Farrar, PhD
Emeritus Professor Department of Sociology
University of Leeds
 
Mehnaaz Momen, PhD
Associate Professor
Texas A & M International University
 
Mehran Amirahmadi
Author and Member of PEN Norway
 
Mette C. Newth
Writer and Translator
 
Michael Bauer
Author and CEO
Bavarian Humanist Association
 
Michael De Dora
Director of Public Policy; UN Representative
Center for Inquiry
 
Michael Kazimierz O’Dwyer
Physics and Math Teacher
 
Mitul Baruah, PhD Candidate
Geography Department
Syracuse University
 
M.M. Akash, PhD
Professor
Department of Economics
University of Dhaka
 
Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of International Relations
University of Dhaka, Bangladesh
 
Morten Harry Olsen
Author and Member of PEN Norway
 
Muktasree Chakma Sathi
Researcher and Human Rights Activist
 
Nakul Singh Sawhney
Filmmaker
 
Dr. Natalia Paszkiewicz
Independent Researcher
 
Nigel C. Hughes, PhD
Professor
Department of Earth Sciences
University of California, Irvine
 
Nils Nordberg
Writer and Professor
Lucy Bland Anglia Ruskin University
 
Ole Robert Sunde
Author and Member of PEN Norway
 
Pål Moddi Knutsen
Musician and Member of PEN Norway
 
Papori Bora, PhD
Assistant Professor
Centre for Women's Studies
Jawaharlal Nehru University
 
P.B. Cliteur, PhD
Professor of Jurisprudence
University of Leiden
 
Per Kværne, PhD
Professor Emeritus
University of Oslo
 
Rafida Bonya Ahmed
Humanist and Activist
Senior Director, Finance Industry
Widow of Dr. Avijit Roy
 
Raihan Sharif
Fulbright Scholar
Washington State University
 
Ranabir Samaddar, PhD
Distinguished Chair in Migration and Forced
Migration Studies
Calcutta Research Group
 
Ragnar Aalbu
Illustrator and Author
Member, PEN Norway
 
Ratnadipa De Ghosh
Poet and Author
 
Raza Rumi
Scholar in Residence
Ithaca College, NY
 
Reza Aslan, PhD
Author and Religious Scholar
 
Richard Dawkins
Emeritus Professor
University of Oxford
 
Ricky Varghese, PhD, RSW
Psychotherapist
 
Rumana Hashem, PhD
Post-Doc Researcher
Centre for Research on Migration, Refugees and Belonging
University of East London
 
Russell Blackford, PhD
School of Humanities and Social Science
University of Newcastle, NSW
 
Salman Rushdie
Novelist
 
Sam Harris, PhD
Author and Neuroscientist
 
Samina Luthfa, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Sociology
University of Dhaka
 
Sean Dowdy, PhD Candidate
Department of Anthropology
University of Chicago
 
Shahidul Alam PhD
Photographer, Writer and Curator
 
Shelley Feldman, PhD
Professor
Department of Development Sociology
Cornell University
 
Stein Versto
Writer
 
Steven Pinker, PhD
Johnstone Professor of Psychology
Harvard University
 
Supriti Dhar
Editor
womenchapter.com
 
Susan Wadley, PhD
Director, South Asia Center
Syracuse University
 
Suzanne Hanchett, PhD
Partner, Planning Alternatives for Change LLC
 
Taslima Nasreen
Author
 
Terje Torkildsen
Author and Comedian
 
Tor Edvin Dahl
Writer
 
Truls Lie
Editor
 
Varuni Bhatia, PhD
Assistant Professor
Asian Languages and Cultures Department
University of Michigan
 
Willy Tore Mørch
Professor Emeritus
University of Tromsø
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Organizations

​21st Century Wilberforce Initiative
American Atheists
American Humanist Association
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-Asia)
Atheist Alliance International
Atheist Foundation of Australia
Bangladesh Group - The Netherlands (Bangladesh Groep Nederland)
Blogger & Online Activist Network-Bangladesh
British Humanist Association
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Canadian Secular Alliance
Cartoonist’s Club
Center for Inquiry
Centre for Inquiry - Canada
Centre for Secular Space UK
Christian Solidarity Worldwide - UK
Council of Australian Humanist Societies
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Dutch Humanist Association (Humanistisch Verbond)
European Humanist Federation
Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations
Freedom House
The Hague Peace Projects
Hamburg Foundation for Politically Persecuted
Humanist Society Scotland
Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association
International League of Non-Religious and Atheists (Germany)
International Humanist and Ethical Union
Insan Foundation Trust
Liberty South Asia
Mukto-Mona
One Law for All
Open Doors
Organizing Committee, Chittagong Hill Tracts Campaign
PEN American Center
PEN Nederland
Progressive Atheists, Inc. (Australia)
Muslims for Progressive Values
Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom
Rationalist Society of Australia
Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science
Secular Coalition for America
Secular Coalition of Australia
Secular Party of Australia
Secularism Is A Women's Issue
Swedish Humanist Association
University for Humanistic Studies (Universiteit voor Humanistiek)
 

21st Century Wilberforce Initiative

American Atheists

American Humanist Association

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-Asia)

Atheist Alliance International

Atheist Foundation of Australia

Bangladesh Group - The Netherlands (Bangladesh Groep Nederland)

Blogger & Online Activist Network-Bangladesh

British Humanist Association

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Canadian Secular Alliance

Cartoonist’s Club

Center for Inquiry

Centre for Inquiry - Canada

Centre for Secular Space UK

Christian Solidarity Worldwide - UK

Council of Australian Humanist Societies

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain

Dutch Humanist Association (Humanistisch Verbond)

European Humanist Federation

Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations

Freedom House

Free Press Unlimited

The Hague Peace Projects

Hamburg Foundation for Politically Persecuted

Humanist Society Scotland

Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association

International League of Non-Religious and Atheists (Germany)

International Humanist and Ethical Union

Insan Foundation Trust

Liberal-Islamischer Bund e.V.

Liberty South Asia

Movements.org

Mukto-Mona

One Law for All

Open Doors

Organizing Committee, Chittagong Hill Tracts Campaign

PEN American Center

PEN Nederland

Progressive Atheists, Inc. (Australia)

Muslims for Progressive Values

Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom

Rationalist Society of Australia

Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science

Secular Coalition for America

Secular Coalition of Australia

Secular Party of Australia

Secularism Is A Women's Issue

Swedish Humanist Association

University for Humanistic Studies (Universiteit voor Humanistiek)

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  • commented 2016-06-08 16:00:58 -0400
    Islam is a religion of HUMAN RIGHT Abuses: discrimination, intolerance, segregation, Apartheid … Islamism and Islamic TERRORISM!
    Humanity MUST defeats Islamist and Islamic Terrorism in the same manner that the Nazis and Nazism were crushed!
    For the sake of Humanity Islam, as a religion, MUST be separated from politics (State) and be forced in its place (attic).