This letter of concern was sent to His Excellency Kamrul Ahsan, High Commissioner for Bangladesh in Canada.
I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.
On UNESCO’s International Day to End Impunity, CJFE strongly denounces the most recent attacks on four more secularist media workers in Bangladesh, including the brutal slaying of Faisal Arefin Dipan, a publisher for the Jagriti Prokashoni publishing house. Ansar al-Islam, a local affiliate of al-Qaeda, has taken credit for the attacks.
On October 31, a group of suspected Islamists hacked Dipan to death using machetes and cleavers in his publishing office in Dhaka. Another publisher, Ahmedur Rashid Tutul, and two secular bloggers, Ranadeep Basu and Tareque Rahim, were badly injured in a similar attack hours earlier in their office. Rahim is married to a Canadian citizen. Both publishers targeted on Saturday sold books written by Avijit Roy, a prominent blogger who was hacked to death in February.
These attacks are the latest incidents of faith-based violence committed against secularists in Bangladesh this year. In addition to Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Das, and Niloy Neel were all secular bloggers who spoke out against religious extremism and had repeatedly received death threats for their writings. They were all named on a “hit-list” of 84 atheist bloggers drafted by Ansar al-Islam in 2013 and subsequently murdered by members of Islamic groups in Bangladesh. Since then, a new global hit-list has been published by Ansarullah Bangla Team, a group of Bangladeshi Islamic extremists that targets Bangladeshi secularists around the world instead of just in country.
CJFE has been following this year’s sharp increase in violence against secularists in Bangladesh very closely. This includes adding our voice to a joint statement of over 300 human rights organizations, civil society organizations and supporters, and concerned members of the blogging and activist community of Bangladesh and internationally to protest in the strongest possible terms the institutional attack on Bangladeshi citizens who profess humanist, atheist, or secularist views. We also sent Your Excellency a letter of concern on August 11, 2015, about the murder of Niloy Neel.
CJFE was encouraged by the arrests of three members of Ansarullah Bangla Team in connection with the deaths of Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das, as well as by the murder charges filed against five suspects in the killing of Washiqur Rahman. However, it is important to note that the attackers being tried for Rahman’s murder were not caught by police but rather turned over to the authorities by members of a minority transgender community, who forcibly prevented them from leaving the scene of the crime.
The Bangladeshi government must do more to ensure the safety of those who speak out for secularist views in the country. Government officials must also take direct actions to end the continuing impunity for crimes against this group of Bangladeshis.
The urgency for the government to take substantive action is emphasized by Bangladesh’s rise on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Global Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered and their killers go unpunished. After not being ranked on the 2014 Index, this year’s rash of violence against secularists has propelled Bangladesh into the Index’s 12th spot. No perpetrators in attacks against bloggers, other media workers, or secularists have been tried and convicted since the case of Gautam Das in 2005.
In the wake of these most recent attacks over the October 31 weekend, numerous organizations have also released statements condemning the continued violence in Bangladesh and the government’s perceived inaction. These include PEN International, Centre for Inquiry Canada, ARTICLE 19, Atheist Alliance, International Humanist and Ethical Union, and Amnesty International.
High Commissioner, today, on the International Day to End Impunity, CJFE strongly implores Your Excellency to pursue this issue with the Bangladeshi government so that justice can be found for those killed or injured in targeted faith-based violence. Bangladesh is a democratic state that must uphold the human rights of all its citizens. To allow those who profess humanist, atheist, or secularist views to be repeatedly victimized is an appalling violation of their right to freedom of expression and must not continue.
We thank you for your attention and I look forward to your reply.