IHEU: Humanists appalled at the murder of secular activist and writer Avijit Roy

“Abhijit Roy lives in America and so it is not possible to kill him right now. He will be murdered when he comes back.”

A reminder that much of the world is a dangerous place for freethinkers and those who have no religious faith.

From the International Humanist and Ethical Union:

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is sickened and appalled to hear that secular blogger Avijit Roy has been murdered in Bangladesh a few hours ago.

“Abhijit Roy lives in America and so, it is not possible to kill him right now. He will be murdered when he comes back.”

These were the words of an Islamist activist referring to Avijit (or Abhijit) Roy early last year. The man making the threat, who is well-known to the authorities, has repeatedly and openly talked about wanting to see secular and freethought writers dead, and those under threat have complained that authorities have ignored his threats and incitement, despite his credible links to Islamist extremists and similar murders taking place.

Tonight, IHEU joins with freethinkers and humanists from Bangladesh in calling for an end to this fatal appeasement of death threats by the authorities in Bangladesh.

Avijit Roy was a well-known writer, founder of the freethought blogging platform Mukto-Mona, which he described to IHEU as “an Internet congregation of freethinkers, rationalists, skeptics, atheists, and humanists of mainly Bengali and South Asian descent”. He had previously provided IHEU with analysis around the arrest and threats against “atheist bloggers” in Bangaldesh in 2013.

Last year Avijit Roy reported these threats to his life, in connection with his published writing from a secular and freethinking perspective. Below, we publish extracts from emails Roy exchanged with IHEU.

IHEU understands that Avijit Roy returned to Bangladesh from the United States around one week ago, to celebrate publishing his new science book (in Bengali), From Vacuum to Universe.

The Dhaka Tribune reports tonight that Roy and his wife Rafida Ahmed Bonna were attacked with cleavers or machetes as they left the book fair at Dhaka University shortly around 8:45pm Thursday night. Bonna is alive but in a serious condition. Roy’s murder has already been compared to the attempted assassination and later death of Humayun Azad, who was also attacked after leaving the Dhaka international book fair, as well as the murder by machete Ahmed Rajib Haider in February 2013.

IHEU’s Director of Communications, Bob Churchill, says:

“This loss is keenly felt by freethinkers and humanists in South Asia and around the world. He was a colleague in humanism and a friend to all who respect human rights, freedom, and the light of reason. Our thoughts are with his family, and his many friends, supporters, and admirers who will be deeply hurt by this senseless crime.

“We cannot know the assailants who carried out tonight’s vicious murder. But we do know this: Those who have openly made the most serious and credible threats on Roy’s life have been allowed to do so with impunity and now he is dead. As Roy himself warned, Bangladesh is appeasing the most insidious and violent strains of Islamism, and he new his own life was under threat. That appeasement of theocratic demands and naked threats must end, now.”

Another Bangladeshi freethought blogger, Arifur Rahman, who was present at the book fair tonight, told IHEU:

“I attended the simple ceremony in the Annual Book Fair just an hour ago and discussed a few things. He excused himself to go wander around in the book fair…

“In Bangladesh, we have seen Government satisfying Islamists’ demands, not protecting bloggers, writers at all. Everyone almost accepted the fact that this will happen and will continue to happen. Government and state is not here to protect or give any help.

After the incident everyone is advising me leave country immediately. I am not interested in leaving right now. No point in living if I have to be afraid all the time.”

Bangladeshi writer and activist, Asif Mohiuddin, who spoke in a plenary session at last year’s World Humanist Congress about the threats by Islamists against himself and others for for their humanist writings and secular activism, said of Avijit Roy tonight:

“He was like my brother. This a great loss for the nation, and for all freethinkers in the world. We called him Richard Dawkins of Bangladesh. He was the nicest person I ever met. Just yesterday he wished me well on my birthday, today he is dead. I can’t believe this! He was my dearest friend and we worked together for 6 years against religious fundamentalism.

He was my hero, and hero of many young freethinkers in Bangladesh. Many young people were inspired by him so much. Now we have a big atheist and agnostic community, gay and lesbian community, that was possible only because of him. He was our support in every step. Whenever we had any problem, he solved that very quickly.

I am very much upset. Please do something, create some pressure on Bangladesh government by writing. Many freethinkers are in risk, they will die.”

Extracts from emails by Avijit Roy about threats by Farabi Shafiur Rahman

Avijit Roy emailed with IHEU on a number of occasions. He was most concerned about explicit and credible threats by one Farabi Shafiur Rahman. Roy felt that he was relatively safe while residing in the United States, but worried for loved ones in Bangladesh. (IHEU was not aware of his plans to return to Dhaka this month.)

We publish below some extracts from Roy’s messages in which he expresses concern about the threats from Farabi Shafiur Rahman, whose authority he clearly felt might hold some sway with people who might be prepared to actually kill him. The following text is from emails exchanged from 21 March 2014 onwards; the first email was almost certainly sent to multiple organisations and media. (The square brackets are his own, except where otherwise stated with emphasis in italics.)

“[21 March 2014] I am often involved in causes that rally support for free speech movements in Bangladesh through my writing and activism. Recently, I found that I have been targeted by a group of militant Islamists and terrorists. Farabi Shafiur Rahman, an extremist who is allegedly linked to the radical Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami and Hizbut Tahrir [a terrorist organization that operates in 40 countries (including Bangladesh) around the world] has given me a death threat through a facebook status. It is worth noting that he is the same Farabi who threatened to kill a Muslim cleric officiated at Ahmed Rajib Haider’s (a popular blogger known by the psuedonym Thaba Baba, who was hacked to death last year by machete-wielding Islamic militants) funeral last year during Shahbagh Movement. Police at that time arrested Farabi on charges of “instigating the murder” but he was granted bail. Although he has continued to threaten many progressives in Bangladesh, no official action has been taken against him.

Most recently, Farabi wrote a death threat on Facebook to Rokomari.com (Bangladesh’s first online bookstore) and ordered the site to stop selling of my books. In his Facebook post, Farabi specified the office address of Rokomari.com and called upon his “Islamist friends” in the adjacent locality to attack. He also told Mahmudul Hasan Sohagh, the owner of Rokomari.com, that he would suffer the same fate as Ahmed Rajib Haider. As a result, Rokomari has ‘taken my books off its list’. The news created a huge uproar and the issue came to the attention of national media and beyond.

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