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Another secular blogger killed; another voice of tolerance silenced

Activists hold a banner displaying a portrait of blogger and author Ananta Bijoy Das during a protest against his killing, in Dhaka, 12 May 2015
Activists hold a banner displaying a portrait of blogger and author Ananta Bijoy Das during a protest against his killing, in Dhaka, 12 May 2015

AP Photo/A.M. Ahad

The murder of Bangladeshi blogger Ananta Bijoy Das has sparked severe condemnation from civil society and heightened concerns about free expression and the culture of impunity in the country. This was the third killing of a secular blogger in three months - Washiqur Rahman was hacked to death in March, while in February attackers killed Avjit Roy and seriously injured his wife while the two were visiting Dhaka from the United States. All three criticised religious fundamentalism, defended freedom of expression and thought, and promoted tolerance.

On 12 May 2015, Das was attacked on a busy street near his home in Sylhet, northeastern Bangladesh. According to the police commissioner, masked assailants armed with machetes attacked the blogger as he was heading to work. He was rushed to hospital, but was pronounced dead upon arrival.

Das was a well-known atheist blogger, who regularly wrote for Mukto-Mona ("Free Mind") blog, run by Avijit Roy, and was also the editor of a scientific magazine Jukti ("Reason"). In his writings, he had been critical of religious fundamentalism and attacks on secular thinkers. In 2006, he was awarded with the Rationalist Award, by Mukto-Mona, for "his deep and courageous interest in spreading secular and humanist ideals and messages in a place which is not only remote, but doesn't have a handful of rationalists."

Fellow writers said Das had been on a hitlist drawn up by militants who were behind the February killing of Roy, a US citizen. And he had reportedly received death threats. Asif Mohiuddin, one of the blogger's friends, said in an interview: "I was trying to help Ananta Bijoy for the last two months to get out of the country. I was trying to get his papers together and had submitted them to some organizations to get him out because he was being threatened for a long time."

As news of his murder broke on social media, hundreds of protesters took to the streets demanding government action and for the killers to be brought to justice.

According to Human Rights Watch, the murders of Das and others comes amid a tense political standoff between Bangladesh's ruling party, the Awami League, and the main opposition parties, the Bangladesh National Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami. The government has clamped down on dissenting opinion in media and civil society over the last several years.

IFEX members were among those who strongly condemned the attack. We share some of their responses below.

International Federation of Journalists

"The attack against secular bloggers in Bangladesh is reaching epidemic levels with the third blogger killed in less than three months. The increase in press freedom attacks and the decline of safety for media workers is a primary concern. Bloggers are coming under attack from all sides and inaction on behalf of the government is a worrying trend. The failure on behalf of the government to stop these attacks has cultivated a culture of impunity," said IFJ Asia Pacific.

Committee to Protect Journalists

"The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina must take urgent steps to ensure the security of critical bloggers in Bangladesh given this series of murders," said CPJ Asia Program Research Associate Sumit Galhotra. "Authorities can show their commitment to curbing this violent trend by finding Ananta Bijoy Das's killers and bringing them to justice."

PEN International

"This third – very brutal – killing in barely three months is utterly horrifying," said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee. "There is a deepening pattern of violence against writers and journalists in Bangladesh, who appear to be targeted solely for the peaceful expression of their views. The authorities must take urgent steps to bring those responsible to justice, and ensure that others who may be at risk are adequately protected."

Index on Censorship

Index CEO Jodie Ginsberg said: "Our sympathies are with the family of Ananta Bijoy Das. Like Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman, he was targeted simply for expressing his own beliefs. We are appalled by these deaths and call on Bangladesh and the international community to do more to protect such writers."

Human Rights Watch

"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. "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."

Freedom House

"Freedom House condemns this murder not only because of the loss of life but because the attack also targets free expression," said Daniel Calingaert, executive vice president. "The government of Bangladesh should ensure that activists and journalists are free to express their views without fear of violence and bring to justice those responsible for the attacks."

Reporters Without Borders

"We condemn this third barbaric murder of a secular blogger in three months in Bangladesh and we fear the possibility of more attacks of this kind," Reporters Without Borders programme director Lucie Morillon said. "What are the authorities waiting for to find and punish those responsible? Freedom of information and thought seems exposed to a growing danger. It is vital to protect Bangladesh's free-thinkers and not yield to impunity."

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