Since February this year, when the humanist blogger Avijit Roy died in a machete attack in Dhaka, we’ve been doing everything in our power to raise awareness of the extremely difficult situation which Bangladeshi humanists find themselves in.
On Friday, the blogger Niloy Neel was brutally murdered, mutilated beyond recognition in his own home, while his family were powerless behind a locked door and forced to hear his dying screams and the sound of metal tearing through flesh. We had the sorry task of helping to break the news to the world, and worked to encourage UK politicians to speak out about this growing human rights crisis, persuading the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to issue a statement about these murders for the first time.
But that is obviously not enough. Diplomatic action must be taken. The International Humanist and Ethical Union is presently deluged by emails and calls for help from writers in Bangladesh who fear they could be next. And with good reason – Islamist extremists are progressively hacking their way through a list of 84 humanist bloggers, and the Bangladeshi government seems content to ignore the problem.
Many activists have voiced concerns that some in Dhaka are spreading disinformation to journalists, through suspiciously timed press releases making inconsistent mentions of arrests and reporting on conversations that never happened with writers like Bonya Ahmed, Avijit’s widow who was our 2015 Voltaire Lecturer. At a recent press conference following Niloy’s murder, a police official reaffirmed his commitment to stamping out religious ‘offence’, urging the public to report ‘blasphemers’ – meaning humanist and secularist bloggers – as criminals.
One of Niloy Neel’s final Facebook posts spoke of reporting to the police that he feared for his life after days of being stalked by a number of men. The police refused to take his statement. Why? Because they said if they took his report, they’d be expected to ensure his safety, which they couldn’t guarantee.
This situation cannot continue. The statement we secured from a UK Government minister makes clear that the UK Government expects Bangladesh to properly investigate these crimes and bring their perpetrators to justice. We hope to be able to involve you as members and supporters in whichever steps we take next to urge further action on this vital issue.
If you haven’t seen it already, please watch the video below: attack survivor Bonya Ahmed’s 2015 Voltaire Lecture on the important theme of anti-humanist violence in Bangladesh and around the world. If you’re short for time, a transcript is also available.