SYED JAHED HOSSAIN

Author, Poet, Human Rights Activist

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Help save voices of Bangladeshi freethinkers

Help save voices of Bangladeshi freethinkers

Widow of slain blogger Avijit urges int’l community

Bonya

Diplomatic Correspondent

Rafida Ahmed Bonya, the widow of slain writer-blogger Avijit Roy, has urged the international community to come forward to help save the voices of Bangladeshi freethinkers and maintain a healthy secular society.

“These brave Bangladeshi journalists, writers, bloggers, and publishers love their country and want to make a difference in their own homeland,” Bonya said at a Congressional briefing in Washington on “Shrinking Space for Civil Society and Human Rights in Bangladesh” on Tuesday.

They are out, along with general people, on the streets to protest these murders, the impunity, and the inaction of the Bangladeshi government, she said.

Bonya said the extent of impunity is so great today that Islamist terrorists are attacking secular bloggers, writers and even publishers in broad daylight, in front of thousands of people or even inside houses or offices.

These terrorists killed five secular bloggers, writers, and a publisher this year and wounded many others. “We have been continuing our work, knowing the constant threats.”

She mentioned that her husband Avijit, a Bangladesh-born US citizen, and she were hacked in the middle of a crowded street on February 26.

The couple came under attack on the Dhaka University campus while returning from Ekushey Book Fair. Avijit was killed and Bonya badly injured in the machete attack.

Narrating the five gruesome murders of secular writers and a publisher this year, Bonya said, “The situation is dire. These bloody days are becoming a norm, and hacking people with voices is becoming a monthly chore for Islamic terrorists. Because these killers were never brought to justice, now they are attacking the foreign workers and even other Muslims from a different sect. We have seen attacks on Shia festival and in a Shia mosque in recent days.”

The Bangladesh government was completely silent after the first three murders of secular bloggers. “And then, when they were forced to say something after the fourth murder, they instead told us to be careful about what we write.”

None of the actual killers have been captured or tried yet, she said.

When some of these bloggers went to police to notify about the threats, law enforcers decided to remain silent and inactive. In some cases, they even encouraged the bloggers to leave the country, Bonya noted.

“Our government said that they were walking a fine line because of the electoral politics, and that they cannot risk their alliance with the religious groups by supporting secular writers of the country. They are refusing to accept the existence of rising Islamic terrorism in the country because of political reasons.”

The Bangladesh government needs to understand that they cannot stop these terrorists unless they openly condemn their acts and take steps to bring them to justice, she said.

“They cannot claim to be a secular government or a secular political party unless they protect freedom of expression for every citizen. We are seeing the classic dilemma between freedom of religion and the liberty to freedom of expression. You will not be able to protect the religious rights of your citizens in a secular country unless you protect the freedom of expression regardless of religion or no religion.”

Bonya pointed out that the war criminals, who have been tried in Bangladesh, should not be considered as “opposition leaders.”

“They are war criminals with proven and well-documented records of mass murders and tortures during our Liberation War in 1971. We strongly believe that Bangladesh has come to this stage partly because these religious fanatics and the war criminals were allowed to be rehabilitated in Bangladesh decades after the new nation state was formed.”

The Congressional briefing was arranged by Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan caucus of the US Congress, which promotes, defends and advocates internationally recognised human rights norms in a non-partisan manner.

In his opening remark, Congressman James P McGovern, co-chair of the Lantos Commission, said that in the power struggle between the major political parties — the Awami League and the BNP — civil society often gets caught in the crossfire.

“There have been reports of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances. With the news that transnational terror networks — including Al Qaeda and ISIS — are present in Bangladesh, the challenges to stability and democracy are likely to intensify.”

Michael De Dora, director of public policy and main representative to the United Nations Center for Inquiry, said, “If the human rights situation in Bangladesh worsens — if terror groups such as Ansarullah Bangla Team and al Qaeda and ISIS are allowed to roam more freely in, and take more control over the country — the global community will soon have a much bigger problem on our hands than a series of gruesome attacks in Bangladesh.

“And still, these attacks are but one element of Bangladesh’s broader deteriorating human rights situation, which has undermined civil and political rights,” added Dora.

The briefing was also addressed by Karin Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN American Center; Sahar Chaudhry, senior policy analyst of US Commission on International Religious Freedom and Bharath Gopalaswamy, director for South Asia Center of Atlantic Council.

at 06:52

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