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Overcrowded passenger ferry capsized in the Padma River in Munshiganj, Bangladesh

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August 13, 2015

Bangladesh Police Chief Tells Bloggers, "Don't Cross the Line"

Activists march in a torch-light vigil demanding immediate arrest and exemplary punishment to the killers of secular blogger Niloy Neel.  Dhaka, Bangladesh. Image by Khurshed Alam Rinku. Copyright Demotix (8/8/2015)
Activists march in a torch-light vigil demanding immediate arrest and exemplary punishment to the killers of secular blogger Niloy Neel. Dhaka, Bangladesh. Image by Khurshed Alam Rinku. Copyright Demotix (8/8/2015)
It has been five days since the assassination of secular blogger Niloy Neel but Bangladesh police authorities have made no significant progress investigating his murder. Neel was hacked to death by a band of five men who broke into his apartment in Dhaka, the nation's capital, on August 7, 2015.

Left shell-shocked by Niloy's killing -- which was the fourth assassination of a secular blogger in Bangladesh in 2015 -- many bloggers have stopping writing and some have gone into hiding. Some of the country's most active bloggers now fear they may face jail or will die at the hands of the assailants. Others have left the country.

The names of these bloggers and others under threat appeared on a list of 84 people submitted to a special government committee in 2013 by a group of conservative Muslim clerics who accused the bloggers of “atheism” and writing against Islam. Since then, eleven individuals on the list have been murdered.

Following Niloy's death, threats have extended beyond blogging communities. The proprietor of a publishing house that published multiple books by blogger Avijit Roy, who was slain in public in February of 2015, is now in danger as fundamentalist forces have identified him as a promoter of atheist ideology.

The day after Niloy's murder, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called Niloy's killers a "blot on Islam." She said in a meeting on August 8:
Islam is a religion of peace. Those who want to taint it cannot have true faith in it. How dare they call themselves Muslims? [..]

And now they are murdering bloggers for writing against the religion. Who benefits from this gory mayhem? Which religion they claim to have been protecting?
She continued:
We cannot let this happen in Bangladesh. The people of this country are peace-loving.
In response, blogger Haseeb wrote in Sachalayatan wrote that for him, the Prime Minister's words rang hollow:
সরকার ব্লগারদের মতপ্রকাশের স্বাধীনতা বিষয়ে যতোটা না চিন্তিত, তার থেকে চিন্তিত তাদের ধার্মিক ইমেজ যাতে ক্ষতিগ্রস্থ না হয় সেটা নিয়ে। সরকার ধর্মীয় রাজনীতি তো বটেই, সেই ধর্মীয় রাজনীতি যারা করে তাদের আদর আপ‍্যায়নেই আন্তরিকতা দেখিয়েছে। আর ব্লগারদের মুখ বন্ধ করতে চালু করেছে ৫৭ধারার মতো কালো আইন।
The government is more concerned about keeping their pro-religion image, rather than worrying about freedom of expression. The government is endorsing religious politics and are soft on those who use religion for politics. And the bloggers are slapped with Section 57 [of the IT Act]...
Section 57 of Bangladesh's IT Act criminalizes “publishing fake, obscene or defaming information in electronic form.”

Haseeb also cited a recent press release from the Awami Ulema League, a conservative Islamic group claiming to support Bangladesh's ruling coalition:
নাস্তিক হত্যাকারীদের বিরুদ্ধে ব্যবস্থা নেয়া মানে এই নয় যে, মিডিয়া ইসলাম বিদ্বেষী নাস্তিকদের হাইলাইট করবে। সুতরাং এসব নাস্তিক ব্লগার কর্তৃক বিভিন্ন ব্লগ, ওয়েবসাইট, স্যোসাল মিডিয়ায় কুরুচিপূর্ণ নাস্তিক্যবাদী লেখা বন্ধে ধর্ম অবমাননার জন্য মৃত্যুদন্ডের আইন প্রণয়ন করতে হবে। [..]

এদেশকে নাস্তিক্যবাদী দেশ বানাতে ইসলাম বিরোধী শিক্ষনীতি তৈরী করা হয়েছে। কুরআন-সুন্নাহ বিরোধী বক্তব্য যুক্ত ও ষড়যন্ত্রমূলক পাঠ্যপুস্তক অবিলম্বে বাজেয়াপ্ত করতে হবে। সাথে সাথে ইসলাম বিরোধী প্রচলিত শিক্ষানীতি বাতিল করতে হবে। ৯৮ ভাগ মুসলমানের এদেশের শিক্ষানীতি সম্পূর্ণ ইসলামিক করতে হবে।
The media should not highlight atheist writings in the name of speaking for the killers of the atheists. There should be the death penalty for those who write nasty and blasphemous things on blogs, websites and in social media.

The education policy of this country was developed to make this a country of atheists. The curriculum which contain words against the Quran and Sunnah should be confiscated. The anti-Islam education policy should be repealed. The education policy of this Muslim-majority country should be Islamic.
Haseeb writes:
যে মুহুর্তে ক্ষমতাসীন আওয়ামী লীগের সহযোগি একটি দল এই সমস্ত অশ্লীল দাবিনামা ঢাকা শহরের রাস্তায় মাইকে উগরাচ্ছে তখন শেখ হাসিনা শীতাতপ নিয়ন্ত্রিত কনফারেন্স রুমে দাবি করছেন ধর্ম নিয়ে রাজনীতি করতে দেয়া হবে না। দুঃখিত মাননীয় প্রধানমন্ত্রী। এভাবে হবে না। ক্ষমতাসীন আওয়ামী লীগ সরকারের এধরণের অবস্থান সাংঘর্ষিক।
While an Islamic front, claiming to be supporters of the ruling Awami League, are talking about these demands using loud speakers in the streets, our Prime Minister is saying indoors that "we will not let religion be used for politics." Sorry, Madame Prime Minister. This is not right. There is a contradiction in the stance of the ruling Awami League.
The Director of News of Ekattor TV Syed Ishtiak Reza asks:
ধর্মান্ধতা আজ আমাদের দেশের শান্তি বিঘ্নিত করছে। সেখানে ক্ষমতাসীন দলের সাথে সম্পর্কযুক্ত কোনও সংগঠন এমন বক্তব্য দিলেতো বলতে হবে, বিপদ দরজায়।
Fundamentalism has disturbed peace in our country. When we hear these kinds of statements coming from a group this close to the ruling party, we have to say, peril is near.
However, in an interview Awami League joint general secretary Mahbub-ul-Alam Hanif stated:
Awami League does not have any wing or associate group by the name of Ulema League. They have no political link with the party.
Hanif urged citizens not to confuse the Alami Ulema League with the Awami League, Bangladesh's current governing political party. According to reports, the people behind Awami Ulema League claim Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as their leader, though their ideology and principles are different from Awami League ruling party. Whether the Awami League has any affiliation with the Awami Ulema League is unknown but no ruling party leaders have condemned their speech.

On Sunday, Police Chief AKM Shahidul Hoque added fuel to the fire, saying:
Free-thinkers and bloggers should not cross the limit of tolerance while expressing their views on religion. If any person is hurt by any writing, s/he may take legal action. They can file a case with the police. Everyone should obey the law.
He added that the maximum punishment for the above crime 14 years' jail time.

Mr. Monirul Islam, another high police official, said:
যারা ব্লগারদের হত্যার সঙ্গে জড়িত এবং যারা হযরত মুহাম্মদ (সা.), ধর্ম ও কোরআন নিয়ে যুক্তিহীনভাবে আঘাত করে ব্লগে লেখে তাদের সকলকে আইনের আওতায় আনা হবে। কারণ যারা যুক্তিহীনভাবে ধর্ম নিয়ে ব্লগে লেখে তারাও উগ্রবাদী।
The killers of the bloggers and those who write on blogs attacking the prophet Muhammad, Islam and Quran all will be brought under law. Those who illogically write against religion in blogs are also extremists.
These comments sparked an uproar among citizens who took to social media to express their outrage. Expat activist Rayhan Rashid tweeted:
Renowned journalist Toufique Khalidi tweeted:
An online petition launched by an unknown group is asking for the police chief's resignation.

Muktangon blog published a statement criticising the police response to the murder and saying that police should not be talking about bloggers hurting religious sentiments in an attempt to distract citizens from their failure to ensure public safety. Muktangon also noted that these bloggers were well aware of speech laws in their country:
এ কথা সঠিক নয় যে, মানুষের ধর্মীয় অনুভূতিতে ব্লগাররা ঢালাওভাবে আঘাত করে যাচ্ছেন। কোনো কোনো ব্লগার তাঁদের মুক্তচিন্তা চর্চার অংশ হিসেবে কখনো কখনো হয়তো ধর্মের (সেটা সব ধর্মের ক্ষেত্রেই প্রযোজ্য) কোনো কোনো বিষয় নিয়ে কথা বলে থাকেন, কিন্তু তা তাঁরা নির্দিষ্ট স্থানে এবং সামগ্রিক আলোচনার ধারাবাহিক অংশ হিসেবেই করে থাকেন। প্রকাশ্যে জনসমক্ষে হট্টগোল তুলে তাঁরা কিছুই করেন না, যার ফলে মানুষ উত্ত্যক্ত বোধ করবে কিংবা আহত ও ক্রুদ্ধ হবে।

মতপ্রকাশের স্বাধীনতার মূল কথাই হল অপ্রিয় মতামত অপ্রিয় ভঙ্গিতে প্রকাশেরও পূর্ণ স্বাধীনতা, যতক্ষণ না তা কোনো সুষ্পষ্টভাবে সংজ্ঞায়িত নিরপেক্ষভাবে বিচারযোগ্য প্রচলিত আইনের কোনো বিধানের নিষেধের মধ্যে না পড়ে। তাই, যারা তাদের রাজনৈতিক বা অন্য কোনো হীন উদ্দেশ্যে ব্লগারদের উম্মুক্ত আলোচনা ও বক্তব্যকে খণ্ডিতভাবে যেখানে-সেখানে উপস্থাপনের মাধ্যমে বিভ্রান্তিকর পরিস্থিতির সৃষ্টি করে, উত্তেজনা সৃষ্টির চেষ্টা করে – সরকার ও আইনশৃঙ্খলা রক্ষাকারী বাহিনীর বরং উচিত তাদের বিরুদ্ধে আইনগত ব্যবস্থা নেয়া।
This is incorrect that bloggers are deliberately and across the board hurting other people's religious sentiments. Some bloggers mentioned and discussed some aspects of religion (many religions, not only Islam) in their online writings as a part of their freedom of expression and part of their discussion and context. But they never did it in public or agitated or hurt people directly.

The main thing of freedom of expression is that one should be free to express adverse opinions in a critical way that may not be liked or endorsed by all. People can do it as long as they are not breaking any existing law of the land. [Author's note: Bangladesh does not have Sharia law.] So those who are creating a disturbance and inciting hatred by terming the bloggers atheist and blasphemous by taking their words out of context should be identified and legal actions should be taken against them.

The post was also published in Global Voices Online.

August 09, 2015

Maldivians March to Mark Anniversary of Local Journalist's Disappearance

Image via the Facebook page of Secular Democratic Maldives Movement
Image via the Facebook page of Secular Democratic Maldives Movement

It has been 365 days since Maldivian journalist, blogger and human rights advocate Ahmed Rizwan Abdulla went missing. The 28-year-old, who works for online news site Minivan News, is an advocate of democracy and free speech and a prolific social media user.

There has been no real progress in the investigation and the people behind his abduction have not been identified. The Maldivian Police and the government have remained silent.

Rilwan's friend Yameen Rasheed describes what has happened in the space of a year:
To demand action and accountability from the state, Rilwan’s well-wishers started the #FindMoyameehaa campaign – the first of its kind in the Maldives. The campaign has organized rallies, petitions, public events, awareness programs on the streets, and also engages the public on social media. The #FindMoyameehaa campaign has drawn widespread attention and international press coverage, and also generated responses – including statements from IFJ, SAMSN, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, and various national and international bodies.
On July 8, 2015 Rilwan’s family called for an independent public inquiry into the disappearance and the lapses in the investigation.

On August 6, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urged Maldives to launch an independent investigation into Rilwan's case.
To mark one year of his disappearance, the family has requested a public rally on August 8 to remind the state of its duty to protect journalists and enforce the law. The opposition Maldives Democratic party has endorsed the rally.

Maldivians are using hashtags #suvaalumarch and #findmoyameeha to spread word about the rally:
And people still have hope:

The post was also published in Global Voices Online.

August 07, 2015

"No Country For Secular Bloggers": Niloy Neel is the Fourth Bangladeshi Blogger To Be Killed in 2015

Murdered blogger Niladri Chakrabarty Neel, Image by Reza Sumon. Copyright Demotix (7/8/2015)
Murdered blogger Niloy Neel, Image by Reza Sumon. Copyright Demotix
On Friday, August 7 at approximately 1:45pm, five assailants armed with machetes entered the flat of blogger Niloy Neel and killed him brutally. When his wife and sister attempted to save him, the attackers threatened to kill them too.

Niloy is the fourth blogger to be killed in Bangladesh over the last six months. All those killed were secular and critical of conservative religious political movements in the country. Many more have been attacked, subjected to death threats and ostracized by religious hardliners for their writing.
The blogger had written under the pen name "Niloy Neel" in Istishon (meaning "station" in Bengali) as a member of a Bengali group blog that covered political and social issues. Expat blogger Arif Rahman noted that he completed a Master's degree in philosophy from Dhaka University in 2013.

Neel was vocal about secularism and wrote for the platform "Ganajagaran Mancha," demanding capital punishment for 1971 war criminals. Dr. Imran H Sarkar, a leader of Ganajagaran Mancha, writes on Facebook:
‪#‎NiloyNeel‬ was writing for women rights, indigenous peoples, even for all other minorities. He was critic of religious extremism that provoked bombing in mosque and killing thousands of civilians.

He was one of the voice for Social Justice, secularism, human rights and loud for ‪#‎AvijitRoy‬ justice. He frequently got threatened by islamic militants those are trying to destroy this country by terrorism.
The names of these bloggers and others under threat appeared on a list of 84 people submitted to a special government committee by a group of conservative Muslim clerics who accused the bloggers of “atheism” and writing against Islam. Government officials responded by blocking critical websites and making arrests, of bloggers and leaders from the religious right, at the height of #shahbag protests in 2013. Some media outlets, including prominent right-wing blogs, have even propagated the ideathat all bloggers are atheists who “hurt the feelings” of religious Bangladeshis. Eleven of the bloggers on the list (including Niloy) have been killed over the past two years.

Niloy also was active in Facebook, where he shared his opinions on political issues, but also described the threats he was facing. On May 15, 2015, he wrote:
আমাকে দুজন মানুষ অনুসরণ করেছে গত পরশু। ‘অনন্ত বিজয় দাশ হত্যার’ প্রতিবাদে আয়োজিত প্রতিবাদ সমাবেশে যোগদান শেষে আমার গন্তব্যে আসার পথে এই অনুসরণটা করা হয়।
I was followed by two people two days ago while returning home after attending a protest programme demanding justice for the murder of blogger Ananta Bijoy Das.
He went to the police station to file a complaint (general diary), and wrote his experience:
First, a police officer told me personally that the police do not usually register such GDs since the officer who registers it will be accountable for ensuring security of the justice seeker. And if the person faces any problem, that police officer may even lose job for negligence in duties.
Niloy soon after removed all his photos from his Facebook profile as a precaution.

Golam Mortaza questions the government for inaction:
ব্লগার বা অনলাইন লেখকদের 'নাস্তিক ' হিসেবে চিহ্নিত করে হত্যা করা হচ্ছে। এই হত্যাকারীদের বিরুদ্ধে ব্যবস্থা নেয়া মানে 'নাস্তিক ' হত্যাকারীদের বিরুদ্ধে ব্যবস্থা নেয়া। নাস্তিকদের যারা হত্যা করছে, তাদের বিরুদ্ধে ব্যাবস্থা নেয়া মানে নাস্তিকদের পক্ষ নেয়া। সরকারের দৃষ্টিভঙ্গি এরকমই। সরকার বক্তব্যে কোনো রাখঢাক নেই। স্পষ্ট বক্তব্য 'আমরা নাস্তিক হিসেবে পরিচিত হতে চাই না। '
Bloggers or online writers are being labeled as atheists. Its like taking actions against the killers is the same as taking action against the killer of atheists. To take action against against the killer of atheists is taking sides with the atheists. The government thinks in this way. They are not hiding it. They are saying by their actions "We dont want to be labeled as atheists".
One powerful group targeting secular bloggers is Hefajat-e-Islam Bangladesh, an association-based fundamentalist Islamic group in Bangladesh that has sought to ban the right of women to work outside of home and promoted the execution of so-called atheist bloggers.

Shaugat Ali Sagor writes in Facebook:
৮৪ জন কেন ৮৪০০ ব্লগারের জীবনের চেয়েও সরকার যে নাস্তিকদের সমর্থক নয় সেটার প্রমান দেওয়া জরুরী। ৮৪ জন ব্লগারের জীবনের বিনিময়েও যদি হাটহাজারীর হেফাজতওয়ালারা খুশি থাকে, সরকারকে হেফাজতে রাখে- সেটিই বরং দরকার।

আশ্চর্য! হাসপাতালের মর্গে একেকটা লাশ যেমন একেকটা নাম্বার, মানে সংখ্যা মাত্র।একেকজন ব্লগারও যেন কেবল নাস্তিক মাত্র। তারা রাষ্ট্রের নাগরিকক নন- কাজেই রাষ্ট্রের কোনো প্রটেকশন তারা পান না, তারা মানুষ নন- তাদের কোনো মানবাধিকার নেই। আর হ্যাঁ, খুন হয়ে যাওয়া 'ব্লগারটি' নাস্তিক ছিলেন- এই কথাটি একবার মুখ দিয়ে বের করা গেলে, সেটি প্রচারে হেফাজত আর সরকারের সমর্থকরাও একাকার হয়ে যান।'ব্লগার নামধারী নাস্তিকরা দেশের স্থিতিশীলতা নষ্টের চক্রান্তে লিপ্ত, সরকারকে বিব্রত করতে চায়'- নিকট অতীতে কোনো কোনো এমপিকেওতো এমন কথা বলতে শুনেছি।
Why only 84? Even if the number of the dead bloggers is 8400, it is far more important to prove that the government is not aiding the atheists. Even if the lives of 84 bloggers can make the Hefajat-e-Islam Bangladesh happy, keep the government safe [from political pressure] then that is important.

Amazing! The dead bodies of fallen bloggers in the morgue are just numbers. All the bloggers are only atheists. They are not the citizens of the land - so they do not get any protection. They are not human - they have no human rights. And yes, if you can somehow establish that the murdered blogger was an atheist, everyone including the government keeps preaching it. Some members of parliament have said in the past that "in the name of bloggers, atheists are disturbing the stability of the country, they want to embarrass the government."
Jyotirmoy Barua, a lawyer and activist writes that bloggers need to unite:
রাস্তায় প্রতিবাদ করা ছাড়া আর কোন কাজে ব্লগারদের একাট্টা হওয়ার কোন ঘটনা এপর্যন্ত ঘটেনি। এটাই ব্লগারদের সবচেয়ে বড় দুর্বলতা। একটি সংগঠিত দল বা গোষ্ঠী না হওয়া সত্ত্বেও তারা দল বা গোষ্ঠী হিসেবে টার্গেট।

তাই সংগঠিত হোন- নয়ত বাঁচবেন না। প্ল্যাটফর্ম তৈরি করুন। প্রতিরোধ করতে শিখুন। প্রতিবাদে কাজ হবে না। দেশে আইনের শাসন নেই, তাই চেঁচিয়ে লাভ হবে না।
So far the bloggers have not been able to unite on a platform other than protesting in the streets. This is the weak point of the bloggers [of Bangladesh]. They are not a united or cohesive group. But they are being targeted as a group.

So please unite - or you will not live. Build a platform. Learn to defend. Simply protesting is not going to work. There is no rule of law in the country - so crying aloud won't help.
Statement claiming responsibility for Niloy's killing sent to media houses from the email ansar.al.islam.bd @gmail. com
Statement claiming responsibility for Niloy's killing sent to media houses from the email ansar.al.islam.bd @gmail. com

According to news reports Ansar-Al-Islam, the Bangladesh chapter of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-Continent, has claimed responsibility for the killing of blogger Niloy, terming him an enemy of Allah. Witnesses reported that while retreating from Niloy's apartment, his attackers reportedly chanted slogans like “Allahu Akbar”.

An email sent to media houses in Bangladesh reportedly read: “Praise be the God! Soldiers of Ansar-Al-Islam [AQIS, Bangladesh Branch] carried out an operation to slaughter an enemy of God and his messenger (peace & blessings be upon him), whose name is Niloy Chowdhury Neel.”

Meanwhile on Friday the police apprehended Hefajat-e-Islam leader Mufti Izharul Islam Chowdhury over an unrelated incident. Chittagong-based radical group Hefazats Nayeb-e-Amir Izaharul is also the chief of Nezame Islam Party, which opposed Bangladesh’s independence in 1971. One item on Hefazat's agenda is to impose capital punishment on all the atheists in Bangladesh, despite the fact that atheists have the same rights as other citizens in Bangladesh.

In May, Global Voices published a statement issuing a call for safety for all Bangladeshi bloggers and pleading with the Bangladeshi government to bring the killers to justice. Hours after Niloy's killing, the Committee to Protect Journalists published a statement posing a question that many bloggers and human rights advocates today are asking:
How many more bloggers must be murdered before the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina acts decisively to stem the violence and impunity?

The post was also published in Global Voices Online.