Bangladesh Prime Minister appears to condone killings of atheist writers

From Prothom Alo Bangladesh

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday said everybody needs to exercise tolerance as it is essential for the country’s uninterrupted development.
She said it is not at all acceptable to write something hurting religious sentiments of others. “We perform our religious rituals. But, if anyone writes filthy words against our religion, why should we tolerate that?” news agency UNB quoted her as saying.
Nowadays it has become a fashion to write something against religion as part of free thinking, she observed. “But, I consider such writings as not free thinking but filthy words. Why anyone would write such things? It’s not at all acceptable if anyone writes against our prophet or other religions. This is a characteristic fault, expression of distorted or filthy mindset. I hope no one would write such filthy things,” said Hasina.
“Why the government would take responsibility if such writings lead to any untoward incidents? Everyone should maintain decency. Or else the government wouldn’t take the responsibility for any uncivilised attitude.”
About the killing out of vengeance for such writings, she said Islam does not permit it and Almighty Allah does not bestow the duty of trial on them.
“But, if anyone doesn’t abide by the guidance of Almighty Allah and his prophet and thus kill people, it is ‘Shirk’. I hope no one would indulge in such act,” she added.

Several Bangladeshi writers have been murdered recently, including Najimuddin Samad on 5 April.

See also Arif Rahman.

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From the BHA: Murders of humanists in Bangladesh

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.

Yet another secularist writer murdered in Bangladesh

Ananta Bijoy Das and Avijit Roy

From The Guardian, 12 May 2015: A secular blogger has been hacked to death in north-east Bangladesh, the third such deadly attack this year.

Police said Ananta Bijoy Das was murdered as he headed to work at a bank in the city of Sylhet, an attack that fellow writers said highlighted a culture of impunity.

Kamrul Hasan, commissioner of Sylhet police, said a group of about four masked attackers pounced on Das with machetes at about 8.30am on Tuesday on a busy street in Bangladesh’s fifth-largest city.

Read more…

It appears that Ananta Bijoy Das had been refused a visa to attend a writers’ conference in Sweden, as the death threats against him led the consulate to consider it a risk he might not return home.

See also BBC report.

It appears also that the Bangladesh government is reluctant to upset Islamists by investigating the murders and threats too closely.

Another atheist blogger murdered in Bangladesh

From the International Humanist and Ethical Union on 30 March 2015:

Washiqur Rahman’s Facebook banner declares “#IamAvijit”, after the leading secular and humanist blogger, Avijit Roy, who was murdered a month ago in Bangladesh.

Washiqur babu

This morning Washiqur Rahman himself was killed in similar circumstances: a machete attack by assailants on the streets of Dhaka. The brutal attack took place close to Rahman’s home. Police have reportedly taken two men into custody who were detained at the scene.

Bob Churchill, Director of Communications at the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) comments: “We are deeply saddened that yet another rationalist voice has been so brutally silenced in this vile backlash against atheist bloggers. Our thoughts are with Washiqur’s family and we stand in solidarity with the many individual thinkers and writers from Bangladesh who exercise their right to discuss religion — Islam in particular — frankly and critically. This is a human right, freedom of expression, and it should be respected and protected in Bangladesh, as it should be respected and protected everywhere.”

Asif Mohiuddin, who was also the victim of a machete attack in 2013, but survived and now lives abroad, described Washiqur on his Facebook page as a “humanist” and a true wit. He told the IHEU: “He was a good friend. We spent hours over tea discussing blogs a few years ago. He had a great sense of humor, his satires were amazing. I named him the George Carlin of Bangladesh! Personally he was very polite, a nice human being. He wanted with all his heart, a true secular country, where everyone can practice their freedom.”

Arifur Rahman, another fellow Bangladeshi atheist blogger, saw Washiqur recently at a social meetup. Washiqur was “a soft spoken personality,” says Arifur, and “his writing was very good. He was… careful, but that did not save him… The culture of impunity that has spread over the last few years clearly has very damning results. It is now the consensus inside Bangladesh, be it silent or spoken, that ‘if you drop an atheist in the open street, nothing will happen to you, you will be treated as a hero.’ The word ‘Nastik’ (atheist) has been vilified in Bangladesh (and the rest of the Muslim world); they are seen as sub-human, it is OK to kill them.”

Washiqur’s writing

Washiqur also used the hashtag #WordsCannotBeKilled, introduced by Avijit Roy’s daughter following her father’s murder. In that vital spirit, we share some words from Washiqur Rahman.

Mild-mannered in person, Washiqur’s satire could be bitingly incisive and insightful. Writing a 52 episode series for Dhormockery.com (a satirical Bengali site), called “Jaw-crushing answers to insulting comments of atheists” (see: questions 1-20, questions 21-40) he enumerated questions raised by critics about Islam, alongside answers commonly given to them, but paired the questions together in order to highlight how the answers are very often in tension, or contradict each other entirely. For example:

Insulting comment 21: Islam is claimed to be ‘the best and the complete way of life’. Does that mean that slavery is valid for eternity?

Jaw-crushing answer: See, Islam is a humane religion. Slavery was not forbidden because of the situation of that time. But there scope for ‘qiyas and ijma’ (consensus and reconsideration) in Islam. That means any custom can be abolished

Insulting comment 22: Why then Muslims are not agreeing to equal inheritance for girls through ‘qiyas and ijma’.

Jaw-crushing answer: See, Islam is a ‘perfect and complete way of life’. Its ‘codes of life’ has been formulated for the overall welfare of humanity. Islam has basically given women the highest honor. But you want to abolish the laws of Allah for the sake of inconsequential earthly benefits. This is not acceptable.

For Bangaldesh’s Independence Day, he wrote a poetic lament about which sections of society really are liberated, and those which are not. The piece reveals many wider social justice concerns, alluding to the apparent immunity from prosecution faced by some garment factory owners, and the injustices faced by many of the poorest in society:

আজ বাংলাদেশের স্বাধীনতা দিবস।

মোল্লা স্বাধীন, জঙ্গি স্বাধীন, ছাগু স্বাধীন, মুমিন স্বাধীন, দুর্নীতিবাজ স্বাধীন, রাজনৈতিক নেতা স্বাধীন, পাতি নেতা স্বাধীন, ধর্ষক স্বাধীন, সামরিক বাহিনী স্বাধীন, সুশীল সমাজ স্বাধীন, পিনাকী স্বাধীন, শফি হুজুর স্বাধীন, দলদাস স্বাধীন, গার্মেন্টস মালিক স্বাধীন, লঞ্চ মালিক স্বাধীন…

স্বাধীন নয় কৃষক-শ্রমিক,
স্বাধীন নয় কথিত সংখ্যালঘু-আদিবাসী,
স্বাধীন নয় মুক্তচিন্তার মানুষ,
স্বাধীন নয় মানুষ হতে চাওয়া মানুষগুলো…

Today is Bangladesh’s liberation day

The Mullah has freedom, extremists have freedom, Muslims have freedom, the corrupt have freedom, political leaders have freedom, adulates of the political leaders have freedom, rapists are free, the armed forces are free, so-called civil society is free, intellectuals who support Islamists, they also have freedom, religious leaders have freedom, the garment factory owners have freedom, the ferry owners have freedom.

Not free: the farmers and labours
Not free: indigenous people and minorities
Not free: Freethinkers
Not free: All the people who just want to be human…

Known on Facebook as Washiqur Babu, Rahman also blogged at Shocholayoton and posted at an online message board called Logical Forum. Washiqur Rahman is also a pseudonym and we’re not using his full given name on advice.

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.
Circumstances

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.

Read more…

Prominent Indian rationalist who waged war on superstition dies after being shot by assassins

A MAN who dedicated his life to exposing fraudulent “god men” who prey on the poor in India was shot dead yesterday just days after the Government said it was planning to introduce a controversial anti-superstition law he was championing.

Narendra Dabholkar, 71, was attacked by two gunmen on motorbikes while he was taking his morning walk and shot dead in the city of Pune.

He was known for founding the Committee for the Eradication of Blind Faith more than 20 years ago.

Dabholkar and his committee (Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti) was particularly well-known for openly criticising some of India’s so-called “godmen”, the self-styled Hindu ascetics who claim to perform miracles and are revered by many. He also campaigned against animal sacrifices used in certain rituals.

Read more at The Freethinker.

See here for a friend of Narendra Dabholkar who visited the UK earlier this year.

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