Activists in Bangladesh Blamed for their Own Deaths:
“I have no religion…”. Words such as these tragically sealed the fate of law student Nazimuddin Samad (28) and several other bloggers, writers, journalists, and artists in the past year in Bangladesh. Samad was horrifically murdered in the streets of Dhaka for having expressed secular views on his Facebook page and other social media.
“The murder […] of Nazimuddin Samad, a secular activist in Bangladesh, is shocking given the nature of the crime. But the impunity with which militants have targeted and killed bloggers, writers, and activists in the past two years shows that the government has failed to ensure a secure environment in which people can express their views freely and without fear”, said Salil Tripathi, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee.
Similarly, Xulhaz Mannan (35) and his friend were hacked to death in his home by six assailants posing as couriers. Mannan’s death was just one of four deplorable killings in April alone, including Samad’s, and English professor Rezaul Karim Siddique (58). Today brought news of two more innocent victims, who’s lives have been taken by the senseless violence in the streets of Bangladesh: read more here.
The brutal preferred method of the perpetrators appears to be hacking their victims to death with machetes, and then shooting them at close range. There have been at least six deadly attacks since February 2015 against prominent atheists and secular figures such as Mannan, who founded Roopbaan, the country’s first and only LGBT magazine.
Although Bangladesh operates under a secular criminal code, government officials, including Prime Minister Hasina, have all but sanctioned the killings, issuing statements condemning individuals that publicly denounce or criticize religion. Alarmingly, when requesting assistance from law enforcement, threatened secularists and atheists have been officially instructed to self censor or go into exile.
Though no single group has been held responsible, the killings have been attributed to Islamist extremist groups, such as Daesh (ISIL) and Ansar-al Islam (the Bangladesh branch of Al-Qaeda). In 2013, the Islamic State published and widely circulated a public hit list of 84 atheist bloggers that continue to be targeted by these attacks.
It is difficult to name the more atrocious act: the killings themselves, or the state’s official response that writers, bloggers, publishers, and activists are in fact to blame for their own deaths. The government of Bangladesh is not only failing to recognize the premeditated and systemic violence against a vulnerable group, it is also quite unbelievably announcing that the victims have provoked the attacks by peacefully expressing their views. The State and Prime Minister Hasina have even gone so far as to suggest that the victims are engaging in illegal activities by contravening the Information, Communications and Technology Act, which criminalizes writings that harm religious belief, and prohibits statements detrimental to public religious sentiment.
In an outraged and decisive move, Bangladeshi writers and activists worldwide have united in an effort to condemn the States actions and garner international support. ICORN, with the support of Norwegian PEN and PEN International, is host to five guest writers from Bangladesh in Scandinavia, four of whom currently reside in Norway. Though these writers have protections in their new countries of residence, many of their friends, families, and colleagues bravely continue the daunting task of expressing their views in the dangerous and oppressive political climate of Bangladesh.
In an act of solidarity, academics, intellectuals, and human rights advocates from Bangladesh and around the world have signed a petition condemning the government’s appalling indifference to these murders, and demanding that the State take urgent action to end the assaults and uphold their human rights obligations, including the protections offered under Article 19 of the ICCPR.
Sadly, it must be noted, petitions have been signed before, the international community has taken notice, and the cries of protest have gone unheeded by the Bangladeshi authorities. How much longer can Hasina’s government allow voices of dissent to be muffled, and ultimately, silenced?
For more information on the vicious murders in April 2016, see PEN International:
Rezaul Karim Siddique:
Article written by: Iva Gavanski, Advisor, WiPC and Norwegian PEN. May 20, 2016.