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On heels of latest attack, Bangladesh urged to protect secular writers and their publishers

Bangladeshi activists, writers and publishers participate in a torch rally held to protest against the killing of Faisal Arefin Deepan, a publisher of secular books, and the attacks on the other publishers and bloggers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2 November 2015
Bangladeshi activists, writers and publishers participate in a torch rally held to protest against the killing of Faisal Arefin Deepan, a publisher of secular books, and the attacks on the other publishers and bloggers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2 November 2015

AP Photo/ A.M. Ahad

This statement was originally published on on 1 November 2015.

The Bangladesh government is abjectly failing in its obligation to protect secular writers and their publishers from harm, PEN International and PEN Bangladesh said today, after attacks on Saturday [31 October 2015] left publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan dead and three others seriously injured.

"The primary blame for this appalling tragedy rests with the assassins who must be found, arrested, charged, and prosecuted. But the Bangladesh Government cannot absolve itself. We must remember that this is the fifth known incident in Bangladesh this year, and over the past few years Bangladeshi bloggers have increasingly lived with fear," said Jennifer Clement, president of PEN International.

"This shows colossal failure on the part of the government, which has not only been meek in its response but weak in meeting its primary obligation, of protecting the rights of Bangladeshis to express themselves freely, without fear."

Publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan of the publishing house Jagriti Prokashoni had published the book Biswasher Virus (The Virus of Faith) by writer/blogger Avijit Roy, who was murdered in February 2015. Dipan was hacked to death in his office in the capital Dhaka and had reportedly previously received death threats.

"The Bangladesh Government has shown unusual zeal in launching prosecutions against bloggers whose writing, according to the government, offends religious sentiments. It has not shown similar commitment to reassure writers that their freedoms are protected, which has given vigilantes and fundamentalists the encouragement to attack bloggers, writers, and publishers," said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International Writers in Prison Committee.

"The Government simply cannot tell writers that they must watch their words; it has to restrain and bring to justice the men wielding the machetes."

Just hours before, three other bloggers and writers were shot and attacked with machetes in the office of the publishing house Shuddhashar Prokashani. Publisher and writer Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury (also known as Tutul) is critically injured, according to reports. Tutul has published the work of two Bangladeshi writers killed this year – Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Dash – and has also written two poetry books – Durbalataguchchha and Mrita Ghorhar Hresha. He had received death threats and reported in the days leading up to the attack that he thought he was being followed. Writers Sudeep Kumar Ray Barman, who writes under the name of Ranadipam Basu, and Tareq Rahim were also injured.

"PEN Bangladesh also strongly condemns these brutal attacks," said Syeda Aireen Jaman, the Secretary General of PEN's Bangladesh Centre.

"We urge the government to trace and arrest these murderers and bring them to trial. We also urge the authorities to protect bloggers and publishers by whatever strategy is necessary."

A group calling itself Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) claimed responsibility for the attacks via a Twitter account in the name of Ansar Al Islam.

The Commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police has told journalists that the attacks are under investigation.

Note to editors: Salil Tripathi is the author of The Colonel Who Would Not Repent, a book about the legacy of the Bangladesh War.

What other IFEX members are saying
  • Bangladesh: Government failing to break Culture of Impunity

    While the international community has spoken with one voice to condemn these crimes and their impact on the exercise of freedom of expression in the country, the State's response has been almost conciliatory at times, and has consistently fallen short of the necessary unconditional condemnation of these horrendous attacks on freedom of expression.

  • Secular publisher hacked to death in Bangladesh by religious group

    " ... Each of these attacks highlights the unstable and insecure environment in which Bangladesh's media is working. Immediate and decisive action needs to be taken by the Bangladeshi government to ensure these attacks end."

  • More attacks against Bangladeshi secularists as impunity continues

    A letter of concern was sent to His Excellency Kamrul Ahsan, High Commissioner for Bangladesh in Canada, strongly imploring him to pursue this issue with the Bangladeshi government so that justice can be found for those killed or injured in targeted faith-based violence.

  • In Bangladesh, publisher stabbed to death and three injured in attacks

    The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns two separate attacks in Dhaka on Saturday that, according to reports, killed and injured, respectively, two publishers who had produced books by the murdered Bangladeshi-American publisher Avijit Roy. Two writers were also injured in one of the attacks.

  • IPA demands protection for publishers in Bangladesh
  • With newest murders, assault on freedom of expression deepens in Bangladesh

    The attacks have had a chilling effect on bloggers, who say they have become hesitant to write about issues that may draw attention from Islamic militant groups. One blogger who has begun to censor his writing told the BBC recently that there was not "an inch of safe space in Bangladesh". And with the killing of Neel, he added: "How can I think my house is safe?"

  • Bangladesh: More murder and demonstrations in Dhaka
  • Samira Shackle: Little comfort for Bangladesh's secular bloggers

    After the most recent attacks on publishers, there have been protests in Bangladesh at the continued killings and perceived impunity for the killers. The home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal did nothing to allay the sense that the government is not taking action, telling reporters: "The law-order situation is good. These sorts of stray incidents occur in all countries." Such sentiments offer little comfort to those facing a continued and serious threats to their life.

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