Following a string of brutal “machete” murders of Bangladeshi bloggers, an open letter today calls upon the Bangladeshi government to stop “victim-blaming” the bloggers and focus on catching the extremists who are murdering them.
The signatories of the letter include many individual Bangladeshi secular bloggers under threat, as well as artists, writers and academics, along with a roll-call of international atheist, humanist, and secularist bloggers, mostly from the American online scene, such as PZ Myers, Hemant Mehta, Richard Carrier, Ophelia Benson. They’re joined by major freedom of expression campaign organisations including Reporters Without Borders, Index on Censorship, as well as liberal religious groups such as Muslims for Progressive Values, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, ex-Muslim groups, and the leaders of numerous national humanist associations under the umbrella of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).
Founded in 1952, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the sole global democratic umbrella organisation embracing humanist, atheist, rationalist, secularist, skeptic, ethical, cultural, free-thought and similar other organisations worldwide.
The open letter was organised by the IHEU, alongside a network of Bangladeshi bloggers and activists.
In the letter, the authorities were accused of “making matters worse” after the murder of blogger Niladri Chatterjee (pen name Niloy Neel) on 7 August. The letter further mentioned that despite condemning the killings, the Inspector General of Police went on to tell bloggers, "Do not cross the limit. Do not hurt anyone's religious belief", and suggested that more bloggers who are criticising religion and advocating humanism would be arrested under the country’s online communications laws.
The sentiments were repeated by the Cabinet Committee for Law and Order, as well as the Home Minister, a stand which the open letter describes as state institutions engaging in “victim-blaming”. The police also said those named on new Islamist militant “hit lists”, including bloggers, poets and academics, should “lodge a police complaint” if they thought they were being “followed”, an approach summed up in the letter as a “grossly inadequate, highly negligent response to what is evidently a most serious and potentially fatal threat.”
President of the IHEU Andrew Copson said, “As each of these bloggers, activists, and humanists has been cut down, there has been a tremendous outpouring of grief not just in Bangladesh but among the humanist and human rights community globally. The grief is followed by a frustration that intensifies each time, as the failures of the authorities begin to amount to victim-blaming and a sort of collective harassment.”
“We wanted to show something of that collective solidarity and anguish in this open letter. From threatened Bangladeshi bloggers, to some of the leading international civil society organisations for freedom of expression; from students at Dhaka University, to established academics all over the world; lone activists, humanist associations, Muslims, Ex-Muslims, all the signatories are presented shoulder to shoulder, in a single column, to emphasise that we are equal and united in this cause,” the IHEU president also said.
“The government of Bangladesh must recognise that those who speak their minds on political Islamism, who express their humanist values, who defend the constitutionally secular democracy of Bangladesh, have every right to do so, and they have friends all over the world who want to see that right respected and upheld,” he added.
Signatories better known in Bangladesh include Sara Hosain, the barrister who defended four bloggers arrested in 2013 for ‘hurting religious sentiments’, Ajoy Roy, a leading activist of humanism in Bangladesh and father of science writer Avijit Roy who was killed in February 2015, and Rafida Bonya Ahmed, Avijit Roy’s widow, a writer herself and a moderator of the Mukto-Mona blogging platform that Avijit Roy founded.
The open letter makes four demands of President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina: to ensure better security of those under threat, to “instruct the police to find the killers, not to harass or blame the victims”, to politically isolate their own party members who are calling for “death penalties” against secularist bloggers, and to repeal those sections of the penal code which are described as enacting “quasi-blasphemy” laws for restricting free expression on religion.
Following news of three new arrests on Tuesday including one suspect with dual British and Bangladeshi citizenship in connection with the murders of Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das earlier this year, the IHEU urged caution, noting that despite several previous arrests no one has yet been convicted, or even tried, for any of the blogger murders.
IHEU argued that "The burden is on the Bangladeshi authorities to demonstrate, fairly and lawfully, that any of these arrests is credible and justifiable."
The letter can be accessed here: http://iheu.org/open-