The killing of secular blogger Ananta Bijoy Das is part of an alarming trend of violent intolerance toward freedom of religion and speech in Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch said today.
Ananta was attacked by four men wielding machetes as he was on his way to work on the morning of May 12. He died instantly.
A banker, Ananta wrote blogs for Mukto-Mona, a website that had been moderated by another secular blogger, Avijit Roy, until he was killed in a similar attack in February in Dhaka, a press release of HRW said quoting media reports.
“This pattern of vicious attacks on secular and atheist writers not only silences the victims but also sends a chilling message to all in Bangladesh who espouse independent views on religious issues,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at the New-York-based rights organisation.
“The Bangladesh government needs to act swiftly to bring to justice those responsible for these brutal attacks, and to make clear public statements that attacking freedom of religion and expression will not be tolerated.”
The government says the police have identified and arrested the perpetrators in the three previous attacks on bloggers, saying that they are members of extremist religious groups, a media release of HRW says adding, Bangladeshi police have announced that they have initiated investigations into the killing of Ananta.
It said the murders of Ananta and others comes amid a tense political standoff between Bangladesh’s ruling party, the Awami League, and the main opposition parties BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami.
“The government has clamped down on dissenting opinion in media and civil society over the last several years. In 2013 the government jailed four atheist bloggers,” the release said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has long claimed to stand for a secular democracy in Bangladesh, nevertheless pledged to continue taking action against anyone who “hurt religious sentiment, it added.
The release claimed that several editors of opposition-friendly media and some civil society leaders have been imprisoned or face charges for reports critical of the government.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on the Bangladeshi government to end curbs on people’s exercising of their free speech rights, the release stated.
“When the authorities jail atheist or secular bloggers for nothing more than expressing their opinion about religion, it suggests that the government agrees with radicals who are butchering people on Bangladesh’s streets,” Adams said.
“This sends the wrong signal to society, which should be hearing from the government that it stands with those expressing peaceful opinions.”
Human Rights Watch also called on the Bangladeshi government to extend police protection to all those who appear on so-called atheist blogger hit-lists allegedly drawn up by militant Islamist groups.
Friends and family of Ananta and Avijit both reportedly received threats and warnings prior to their murders, and had been told by those who threatened them that they were on these hit-lists, HRW further said quoting media reports.
UN, US, FRANCE CONDEMN BLOGGER MURDER
The United Nations in Bangladesh has condemned the brutal killing of blogger Ananta Bijoy Das and called for thorough investigations of these crimes in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.
It also reiterated the call for the previous cases and to bring about speedy closure to the investigations, and to charge the individuals involved, said in a statement issued by Mr. Robert D. Watkins, United Nations Resident Coordinator, Bangladesh.
“The UN is concerned that these attacks are part of a larger trend of intolerance in Bangladesh society which needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
Condemning the killing, the United States hoped that Bangladeshi authorities will find and bring the perpetrators to justice.
It also hoped that all Bangladeshis strive to ensure space for the peaceful expression of ideas without fear of violence, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said Acting Deputy Spokesperson of the US State Department Jeff Rathke.
“Of course, we are in contact with the Government of Bangladesh about the case, but I don’t have any announcements to make,” he said while replying to a query at a daily press briefing in Washington today.
France also condemned the murder and called on the authorities to investigate these “revolting acts”.
France reiterates its attachment to the freedom of opinion and expression, including online expression, said a release from the French Embassy in Bangladesh.
The country also conveyed its condolences to Ananta’s family and his relatives.