Give refuge to Bangladeshi freethinkers in danger | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 23, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:38 AM, December 23, 2015

Give refuge to Bangladeshi freethinkers in danger

8 HR bodies ask US

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A group of human rights organisations has appealed to the US government to allow in Bangladeshi writers and publishers, targeted by Islamist extremists for their secular beliefs.

In a letter to Secretary of State John F Kerry, the rights bodies also asked for measures to arrange emergency relocation of those Bangladeshi writer-bloggers to other like-minded nations in case America is unable to take them all in.

They cited killing of four writer-bloggers and a publisher this year since February. Islamist extremist groups like Ansar al-Islam, Ansarullah Bangla Team and Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent have claimed responsibility for these murders. 

The letter is signed by representatives of seven US-based organisations, including Pen American Center, and France-based Reporters Without Borders. 

Expressing deep concern, the groups said dozens more were receiving threats publicly on social media or over the phone from identifiable non-state groups who have acted on their threats and rhetoric repeatedly in the past. 

These writers are unable to seek protection from their own government that “at times asks them to resort to self-censorship for their security or leave the country”, they said in the letter.  

The groups suggested that the US grant “humanitarian parole” to a limited number of high-profile Bangladeshi secularists at imminent risk of attack.

The “dire situation” they are facing falls under the criteria for giving such opportunity, they said.  

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services grant humanitarian parole based on “urgent humanitarian reasons or if there is a significant public benefit” for a temporary period or the length of the emergency or humanitarian situation, according to the official website of Department of Homeland Security.

“If the United States is unable to grant humanitarian parole to all writers facing these circumstances, we would urge you to mobilize likeminded governments so that other international placements can be secured, including in countries that can offer expedited refugee determinations.”

Islamist groups have published “hit lists” of secular Bangladeshi bloggers, writers and publishers, which have names of those attacked or killed and those they named as their future targets, the groups said.

Amid such a situation, the organisations have received several requests from those at risk asking for help for their relocation to safety outside the country, according to the letter.   

Until now, the Bangladesh government has proved unable to stop such attacks or provide necessary security to the bloggers and publishers. The letter also pointed out that they do not qualify for UNHCR assistance as they are living in their home country and “are not displaced.”

“Should parole be secured, we stand ready to mobilize our networks to assist these writers once they arrive in the United States,” the letter reads.

Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, Freedom House, City of Asylum Pittsburgh, Center for Inquiry and International Freedom to Publish Committee Association of American Publishers are the six other organisations that signed the letter.

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