2018: Bangladesh: Shahidul Alam

Photographer and writer Shahidul Alam was arrested, accused of “making provocative comments” and “giving false information to media. Norwegian PEN believes he was arrested for having criticised the government’s handling of student-led protests about road safety.

Prime Minister
Sheikh Hasina
Old Sangsad Bhaban
Tejgaon, Dhaka-1215

Oslo 14th November 2018

Dear Prime Minister,

Norwegian PEN is urgently concerned about the welfare of photographer and writer Shahidul Alam, who is being held in detention with deteriorating health.

Alam was forcibly taken from his home by plainclothes police officers during the night of 5th August 2018 and brought before a lower court in Dhaka the next day, where he was accused of “making provocative comments” and “giving false information to media, contrary to section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act of 2006, as amended (ICT Act).” If convicted Alam faces up to 14 years in prison.

The arrest and accusations came shortly after Alam gave an interview to Al Jazeera in which he criticised the government’s handling of student-led protests about road safety. Norwegian PEN has reason to believe he is being kept in detention solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Bangladeshi authorities have an obligation to secure the right to freedom of expression including peaceful criticism of political authorities under Article 19.

Norwegian PEN calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Shahidul Alam, and for an independent investigation to be held into the allegations of torture, in which those found responsible are brought to justice.

Yours sincerely,

Ms Johanne Fronth-Nygren
Member of Writers in Prison Committee
Norwegian PEN

 

Copy:

Minister of Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal
Inspector General of Police Mohammad Javed Patwary
Sahidur Rahman, Honorary Consul, Bangladeshi Honorary Consulate in Oslo
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Ossietzkyprisen 2018 til Ahmedur Rashid Chowdury

Ahmedur Rashid Chowdury. Foto: Arne Hageberg

Norsk PEN tildeler Ossietzkyprisen 2018 til Ahmedur Rashid Chowdury, også kjent som Tutul. Han får prisen for motet han i en årrekke har utvist gjennom kompromissløst å utgi litteratur som fremmer liberale og sekulære verdier i et stadig mer ekstremistisk samfunn i hjemlandet Bangladesh.

Til tross for trusler og drapsforsøk har Tutul insistert på å forsvare ytringsfriheten gjennom å publisere bøker og artikler som han visste kunne koste ham livet. Fra sin eksiltilværelse i Norge har han med pågangsmot klart å føre videre sitt livsverk.

Det er med stor ydmykhet og glede at Norsk PEN tildeler Ossietzkyprisen 2018 til Tutul.

Om Tutul
Tutul, ble født i Bangladesh i 1973. Han er forfatter, redaktør og forlegger. Som 17-åring etablerte Tutul og noen venner det litterære tidsskriftet Shuddhashar, der han både var redaktør og utgiver. Til å begynne med var innholdet i tidsskriftet preget av litterære og språklige temaer, med tekster skrevet av unge og uetablerte forfattere i Bangladesh. Men fokus ble raskt utvidet til også å inkludere tekster som omhandlet spørsmål som den unge redaktøren selv var opptatt av – likestilling, sekularisme og demokratiutvikling. Parallelt skrev Tutul egne noveller og dikt, og han utga i 1995 sin første diktsamling.

Som en protest mot at etablerte forlag i Bangladesh sjelden eller aldri ville utgi bøker skrevet av progressive forfattere og fritenkere, utvidet Tutul i 2003 virksomheten og etablerte et forlag med samme navn som tidsskriftet. Av forfatterne som er utgitt på forlaget Shuddhashar finner vi en stor variasjon av bøker – både klassiske verk, en rekke oversettelser av internasjonal litteratur, sakprosa innen et bredt spekter av temaer, eventyr og mytologi fra urfolksgrupper, barne- og ungdomslitteratur, poesi, med mer. Blant forfatterne som er oversatt til bangla og utgitt av Tutul på Shuddhashar finner vi blant andre Pablo Neruda, Tomas Tranströmer, Hafeez, Sylvia Plath, Faiz Ahmed Faiz og Arundhati Roy.

En betydelig andel av bøkene som Tutul utga på Shuddhashar omhandler det som i Bangladesh er kontroversielle temaer som homoseksualitet, likestilling, ateisme, kvinners seksualitet, religionskritikk, vitenskap og psykologi. Dette gikk ikke upåaktet hen hos den stadig voksende gruppen av religiøse ekstremister i Bangladesh. Konsekvensene for Tutul og mange av forfatterne som han har vært forlegger for, var og er brutal. Både Avijit Roy og Ananta Bijoy Dash, begge sekulære forfattere og bloggere som Tutul har utgitt på sitt forlag, ble drept av militante islamistiske fundamentalister i 2015. I følge PEN International har minst 9 forfattere, intellektuelle og aktivister blitt myrdet i Bangladesh siden 2015. I oktober 2015 ble Tutul selv, etter flere år med trusler og trakassering, angrepet og nær drept av to personer som oppsøkte ham med macheter og skytevåpen på hans forlagskontor i Dhaka. Tutul overlevde på mirakuløst vis, mens hans kollega Faisal Arefin Dipan, som drev forlaget Jagriti Prokashoni, ble hakket i hjel med macheter bare få timer senere. Fordi faren for et nytt angrep var stor og nødvendig beskyttelse fra politi og myndigheter fullstendig fraværende måtte Tutul forlate Bangladesh, mer eller mindre direkte fra sykehusets operasjonssal. Etter et kort opphold på flukt i Nepal kom Tutul sammen med sin kone og to døtre til Norge og Skien en kald og mørk januardag i 2016, der han var blitt invitert til å få opphold og beskyttelse som byens nye fribyforfatter.

Fra sin nye tilværelse i Norge har Tutul gjenetablert Shuddhashar, foreløpig i form av et nettbasert tidsskrift, den første utgaven ble publisert i januar 2017. Til tross for knappe ressurser og manglende finansiering har han gitt ut ni utgaver av tidsskriftet på under to år. Artiklene han har publisert fra sitt hjemmekontor i Skien ligger åpent tilgjengelig på tidsskriftets nettside. De har et like stort tematisk spenn som den gangen forlaget og redaktør Tutul befant seg i Dhaka. Den røde tråden er fremdeles ytringsfrihet, menneskerettigheter og den frie tanke.

I lederen til den niende og foreløpig siste utgaven av tidsskriftet, forklarer Tutul selv hva som er tidsskriftets verdier: «We, that is to say Shuddhashar, are doing important work: promoting freedom of expression, politics, activism, and the creative use of literature to respond to our present circumstances and imagine a different future. We are working as a platform for exiled and threatened authors, where exiled writers get the opportunity to exchange socio-political ideas with their peers and with human rights activists. Shuddhashar believes that the truth is not perfect, nor is there a definitive or absolute truth. But we firmly believe that, in order to solve problems, we have to share our human rights and communicate our thoughts. So, our authors are looking to share ideas and dialogue with their peers, human rights activists and similar experts.»

Om Ossietzkyprisen
Ossietzkyprisen er Norsk PENs pris for fremragende innsats for ytringsfriheten.  Prisen deles ut årlig til en person eller institusjon som over noe tid, eller i forbindelse med en spesiell sak eller hendelse, har gjort en særlig innsats for ytringsfriheten. Styret i Norsk PEN beslutter hvem som skal tildeles Ossietzkyprisen.

Prisoverrekkelse
Prisen overrekkes onsdag 14. november på Litteraturhuset i Oslo.

17. februar: Life on the line for free speech

Sakprosafestivalen Verden i Bergen 17. februar 2018 kl. 16.15: Litteraturhuset i Bergen. I samarbeid med Norsk PEN.

A machete attack nearly killed Bangladeshi publisher Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury (known as Tutul) in 2015. His company publishes texts on freedom of speech, religious freedom and atheism. In recent years, Islamic extremists have murdered a number of publishers, bloggers and authors in Chowdhury’s homeland, many of them his collaborators. He is currently living as an ICORN writer in Skien. He will discuss literature and freedom with Trygve Åslund, publishing manager of Aschehoug and a board member of Norwegian PEN.

Arrangementet på Facebook.

20. september: Temakveld Bangladesh

collage-2016-09-09

Vi ønsker alle varmt velkommen til Bangladesh-kveld på Litteraturhuset i Oslo, tirsdag 20. september kl. 19! Bli kjent med eksilforfattere i Norge, møt en av Bangladeshs mest produktive forfattere, hør nye oversettelser og gjendiktninger, og møt avistegneren som ble fengslet fordi han tegnet et katt.

Ytringsfriheten er under sterkt press i Bangladesh, og en lang rekke sekulære forfattere, forleggere, bloggere og aktivister har de siste par årene blitt brutalt angrepet, drept eller på andre måter truet til taushet.

En av dem dere skal få møte denne kvelden, er forlegger og poet Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury, også kjent som Tutul. Han ble selv brutalt angrepet i fjor høst av ekstremister i Bangladesh og overlevde på mirakuløst vis, mens hans to kollegaer som han var sammen med på forlagets kontor, ble drept. Chowdury kom i januar til Norge og er nå fribyforfatter i Skien. Han vil bruke sin førstehåndskunnskap til å redegjøre for de frie ytrernes situasjon. Han vil også lese noen av sine dikt, nylig gjendiktet av Erling Kittelsen.

Vi får også treffe den produktive forfatteren Imdadul Haq Milan, bosatt i Bangladesh. Han gjør et stopp i Oslo på vei til bokmessen i Gøteborg. Han kommer til Litteraturhuset denne kvelden sammen med Monalisa Khan og Mahmudul Amin.

I tillegg medviker bl.a. barne- og ungdomsbokforfatter Shamim Runa og tidligere fribytegner i Drøbak, Arifur Rahman.

Arrangør er Norsk PENs Komité for Fengslede Forfattere, som har tatt initiativ til en serie arrangementer med formål å presentere utenlandske forfattere som lever og arbeider i Norge.

Norsk PENs Komité for Fengslede Forfattere består av medlemmer fra Norsk PEN, Den norske Forfatterforening, Norsk Oversetterforening, Norske Barne- og Ungdomsbokforfattere og Norsk faglitterær forfatter- og oversetterforening.

Arrangementet er gratis og finner sted på Litteraturhuset i Oslo, Amalie Skram (2. etasje), tirsdag 20. september kl. 19.00.

Velkommen!

Arrangementet er støttet av Kulturrådet, Norsk Forfattersentrum, Fritt Ord og skribentorganisasjonene.

«I have no religion…»

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:

Nazimuddin Samad:

http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/bangladesh-student-murdered-as-violence-against-free-thinkers-continues/

Rezaul Karim Siddique:

http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/bangladesh-university-professor-hacked-to-death/

Xulhaz Mannan:

http://www.pen-international.org/newsitems/bangladesh-brutal-murder-of-lgbt-editor-an-appalling-indictment-of-authorities-failure-to-protect/

 

Article written by: Iva Gavanski, Advisor, WiPC and Norwegian PEN.  May 20, 2016.

In support of secular bloggers and freethinkers in Bangladesh

bangladesh

The Nordic and Estonian PEN centres condemn the acts of violence and demand protection for those in danger.

28 April 2016

Freedom of expression is under a serious threat once again in Bangladesh, where four freethinkers have been brutally murdered within a month:

  • On April 25th Xulhaz Mannan, a gay rights activist and an editor at LGBT magazine, Roopbaan, and a fellow activist and USAID employee Tanay Mojumdar were killed in Mannan’s apartment.
  • On April 23rd Professor Rezaul Karim Siddique, an academic and cultural activist, was hacked to death by machete men in Rajshahi.
  • Nazimuddin Samad, a law student, wrote critically on Islam on his Facebook page and was brutally murdered in Dhaka on April 7th.

In 2015, five secular bloggers, online activists, writers and publishers were killed in attacks. Among them was Avjit Roy, a founder of Bangladesh’s leading secular blog, Mukto-Mona.

These savage acts send a loud message of intimidation. There is a climate of silence, fear and extreme danger prevailing for secular people of Bangladesh. The recent trend of spiralling terror of radical Islamists against secular freethinkers and religious and sexual minority groups is highly alarming. It’s also unexpected from a secular country, which has a composite national identity and a long history of tolerance.

Since 1975, Bangladesh has gone through a religious transformation under two military rulers. After the student-led mass uprising in December 1990, Bangladesh entered into a new era of parliamentary democracy in 1991. But the democratic leaders made dangerous liaison with Islamist parties keeping in mind the electoral politics. As a result, Islamist narrative has gained leeway in democratic policy. The current government of Awami League came to power through a flawed election in 2014 that did not bear international standards. The election was conducted amidst the boycott of the main opposition party demanding installation of a credible election commission. The opposition was emboldened by tacit support of the Islamist groups. In the absence of a credible democratic environment and divisive politics, Islamists are flexing their muscles now. So far the country’s government has shown an utter failure in protecting secular voices who exercise their lawful right of free expression.

“The [Bangladeshi] government response has been shocking – at a speech to mark the Bangla New Year, while calling for tolerance, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed chose to criticise the vulnerable bloggers, saying it was not acceptable to write against religion, instead of warning the emboldened killers, who continue to act with impunity”, said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

A secular government in a democratic state can’t dictate its citizens what to write – it’s against the main principle of free speech, the fundamental cornerstone of a democratic society. What makes it particularly appalling is that the government is turning its back and showing clear unwillingness in protecting its own citizens, who represent the country’s brightest thinkers – those, who stand for education, equality, human rights and worry about the future of their country. This is unacceptable.

The current crisis in Bangladesh reflects the fight for the soul of the country. To be able to retain its secular identity and save its representative democratic institutions from falling in the hand of political Islamists the top Bangladeshi politicians must make a choice.  It can only be possible through honest and open dialogue among major political parties of the country. Questions remain: can political leaders rise over their partisan and parochial interests? This requires courage and vision.

 What the Nordic and Estonian PEN centres see is a crisis of a democracy and a country falling into a chaos. What we receive is desperate cries for help from the bloggers and freethinkers dreading for their lives. It is a heart aching, critical situation in which the Nordic and Estonian democracies and the international community must act together with Bangladesh’s government.

Unesco’s World Press Freedom Day is being celebrated in Helsinki, Finland, on May 3–4 2016. This is the time and place for the international community to reaffirm their commitment in defence of the right to freedom of expression, show support for the Bangladeshi freethinkers and discuss the ways of cooperation.

 We, the Nordic and Estonian PEN centres, stand with secular freethinkers of Bangladesh in their right to freedom of expression as enshrined in our own charter and various global conventions including that of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

We urge Bangladesh government to:

  1. Protect secular bloggers, writers, publishers, academics and human rights activists from violent campaign of radical Islamist groups.
  2. Bring perpetrators of violence to justice and put end to the culture of impunity.
  3. Protect the space for freedom of expression in the country.
  4. Protect minority groups including religious and sexual minority groups and others.
  5. Take steps to arrange a credible national election in cooperation with all major political parties because in the absence of a proper democracy, undemocratic forces flourish.

 We urge our own governments in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden to:

  1. Find ways to protect freethinkers in Bangladesh.
  2. Offer more safe havens in our countries to those who are in a critical state.
  3. Support and ensure the democratic development in Bangladesh, and to build stronger diplomatic ties with the country.

Kätlin Kaldmaa, Eesti PEN – Estonian PEN
Sirpa Kähkönen, Suomen PEN – Finnish PEN
Ola Larsmo, Svenska P.E.N. – Swedish PEN
William Nygaard, Norsk P.E.N. – Norwegian PEN
Sjón, PEN á Íslandi – Icelandic PEN
Per Øhrgaard, Dansk PEN – Danish PEN

PEN, the worldwide association of writers, defends freedom of expression according to its charter everywhere in the world.

Bloggeren Niloy Chakrabarti drept i Bangladesh

NiloyChakrabarti7. august ble den bangladeshiske bloggeren Niloy Chakrabarti brutalt myrdet i sitt hjem. Chakrabarti, også kjent som Niloy Neel, er den fjerde sekulære blogger som er blitt drept i Bangladesh i år.

Chakrabartis navn har stått på to lister over bloggere som skulle drepes, publisert i bangladeshisk media, sammen med 83 andre bloggere som alle ble beskrevet som anti-islamske og blasfemiske. Hittil i år har fire av bloggerne på listen blitt drept.

26. februar 2015, ble den fremstående bloggeren Avijit Roy brutalt myrdet, mens hans kone ble skadet i angrepet. Bare en måned senere fulgte mordet på blogger Washiqur Rahman. 12. mai 2015 ble Ananta Bijoy Dash, en nær venn av Roy, knivstukket til døde i byen Sylhet av en maskert gjeng.

Minst tre andre forfattere har blitt angrepet eller drept i Bangladesh siden 2013, og selv om flere har blitt arrestert i forbindelse med hendelsene har ingen blitt holdt ansvarlig for noen av angrepene. Norsk PEN er alvorlig bekymret over den økende tendensen til vold mot forfattere og journalister som fredelig uttrykker sine synspunkter.

Drapet på Niloy Chakrabarti er en opprivende påminnelse om behovet for styrket beskyttelse av forfattere og frie meningsytrere.
Norsk PEN ber myndighetene i Bangladesh om raskt og upartisk å etterforske hans død og at gjerningsmennene blir stilt for retten.

Statsminister Hasina Wajed og hennes regjering må gjøre alt i sin makt for å sikre at de tragiske hendelsene ikke ble gjentatt. Forfattere, journalister og bloggere som er i faresonen må beskyttes av egne myndigheter. Drapene må etterforskes raskt og upartisk og gjerningsmennene må stilles for retten.

150 forfattere fra hele verden underskrev et brev til statsminister Hasina Wajed tidligere i år med krav om beskyttelse av bloggerne og fengselsstraff for gjerningsmennene.

2015 Bangladesh: Ananta Bijoy Das

President
Md. Abdul Hamid
Bangabhaban
Dhaka 1000
Bangladesh

Oslo, 14.05.2015

 

Dear President,

 

With this letter Norwegian PEN will express a mounting concern about the escalating pattern of attacks on writers and journalists in Bangladesh, which has culminated in the shocking murder of writer, editor and blogger Ananta Bijoy Das. At least six writers have been attacked or murdered since 2013, and although there have been several arrests, no-one has been held to account for any of these attacks.

Norwegian PEN wants to seek assurance that the Bangladeshi authorities take all necessary measures to bring the perpetrators to justice in accordance with international fair trial standards. It is now urgent that all possible steps are taken to protect writers at risk in the country.

 

Yours sincerely,

Ms Brit Bildøen
Chair of Writers in Prison Committee
Norwegian PEN

COPY: The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

2007: Bangladesh: Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

28 March 2007

Professor Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed
Honorable President & Chief of the Caretaker Government
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Banga Bhaban
Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh

Dear Professor Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed,

As Chair of the Norwegian Writers in Prison Committee I call for all charges against journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury to be dropped.  Choudhury is on trial on sedition charges for his perceived association with Israel and his criticism of the spread of Islamist militancy in Bangladesh in his writings. His appeal will be heard by the Supreme Court on 28 March 2007.

We express our serious concerns for the safety of journalist Salah Uddin Choudhury, and call for him to be provided with immediate and effective police protection.

Norwegian PEN protest the charges against journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, and urges that they are dropped in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Confident that you will take action accordingly, I remain,

Yours sincerely,

Elisabet W. Middelthon
Chair Writers in Prison Committee, Norwegian PEN

Cc. Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed
Chief Advisor, Caretaker Government
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Chief Advisor’s Office, Old Sangshad Bhaban
Tejgaon, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Fax: 880-2-8113243 & 880-2-8111490

Copies to:
Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Bangladesh’ Embassy in Stockholm
Norwegian Embassy in Dhaka