More than 150 writers from around the world, including Margaret Atwood, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Yann Martel, Salman Rushdie and Colm Tóibín, have condemned the murders of three secular bloggers in Bangladesh this year.
The group, which also includes publishers and lawyers, has joined PEN International and English PEN in calling on Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina Wajed and her government to ensure that these events are not repeated and the perpetrators are brought to justice.
In a letter to Wajed, they say they are “shocked and horrified” by last week’s murder of 32-year-old blogger and editor Ananta Bijoy Das, who was “hacked to death on his way to work by a masked gang wielding machetes in the city of Sylhet”. Prior to his death, Das had “reportedly received a number of death threats from Islamist militants and his name had appeared in two assassination lists published in the Bangladeshi media”.
The letter also discusses Das’ friend and fellow blogger, Avijit Roy, who, along with his wife Rafida Ahmed Bonya, was “viciously attacked by unknown assailants close to the Dhaka University campus” in February. Roy died soon afterwards whilst Bonya was severely injured. A militant Islamist group has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack.
In March, blogger Washiqur Rahman Babu was murdered 500 yards from his home in Begunbari, Dhaka. Police have claimed that the attackers “targeted the 27-year-old blogger because they believed he had defamed Islam through his writing”. Two students from an Islamic school have since been arrested in connection with Babu’s killing.
The letter goes on to say that “at least three other writers have been attacked or murdered in Bangladesh since 2013 and, although there have been several arrests, no one has been held to account for any of these attacks”.
The authors say they are “gravely concerned by this escalating pattern of violence against writers and journalists who are peacefully expressing their views”. They add: “Freedom of expression is a fundamental right under Bangladesh’s constitution as well as one of the rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
In addition to calling on the Bangladeshi authorities to investigate these murders "swiftly and impartially", they demand that the authorities provide protection and support to bloggers and other writers at risk in Bangladesh.
Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, said: “This is a campaign of violence against bloggers and writers who are courageous enough to speak out in a hostile culture for free speech. The government of Bangladesh must urgently address the climate of impunity and be seen to safeguard freedom of expression. These shocking events have united writers throughout the world in an important show of solidarity.”
John Ralston Saul, president of PEN International, added: “Since my time in Dhaka late last year, I have seen the situation slip steadily downhill. The government, and the Prime Minister in particular, have the responsibility and the ethical obligation to stop this violence and to ensure that Bangladesh meets acceptable standards of both democracy and the rule of law, which are needed to protect the citizens' right to free expression.”
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