Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Bangladeshi bloggers: What we want the world to know

NB: Many decades ago, during the opposition to the Vietnam war, democrats the world over were internationalist in their outlook. Sufficiently large numbers of them refused to align with one-sided ideologies, and supported democratic movements across the geopolitical divisions of the Cold War. Yes, there were political dogmatists then too, but the anti-Vietnam war movement - or the now-forgotten but highly successful anti-MX missile movement of the 1980's (European Nuclear Disarmament) were vastly popular because they were not defined by any partisan political 'line' or orientation.

Today international support for democracy is selective, subject to doctrinal certification. Some campaign for human rights in Palestine, but forget about Tibet. Some remember the human rights violations suffered by the people of the Kashmir Valley, but forget about the sufferings of Pandits (it’s never the ‘right time’ to raise such issues). Some condemn blasphemers against Islam, but are more offended by cartoons than by murder. Some raise their voices against criminal acts and arms peddling by the Western powers but not against the same activities when committed by the Russian and Chinese governments. In south Asia, it has become an entrenched practice to view communalism through a communal lens - and this selective and opportunist stand toward our version of fascism has underwritten our failure to evolve a comprehensive resistance to it.

In India there has been a systematic assault on the rights of free speech and criticism of religion – this has been evident in India with the legal protection given to religious fanatics (about which my friend Purushottam Agrawal has written a biting satire, Nakohas, an acronym for National Commission of Hurt Sentiment). The murders of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi are cases in point, as are the manufactured hate campaigns by the ruling dispensation, which rakes up issues such as love jehad, beef eating, and the forced chanting of patriotic slogans to keep up the temperature of hatred in which it flourishes.

In Bangladesh there has been a series of brutal murders of bloggers and intellectuals, as is true for Pakistan as well. Surely our support and solidarity for endangered intellectuals, journalists and human rights defenders in these countries is a moral imperative for democratic activists everywhere? Or will political correctness make us turn a blind eye to communal tyranny? Let us remind ourselves once again, that a threat to human liberty anywhere is a threat to us all, and that the survival of democracy and free speech requires international solidarity. I post these interviews with Bangladeshi bloggers out of respect for the dead, and as a salute to their courage in resisting the religious fascists and highlighting the role of a supine government in allowing this situation to develop - DS

Bangladesh has become a dangerous place for anyone who dares to cross an invisible line set by Islamic extremists intent on silencing dissenting voices with knives and guns. In the last two years, at least eight atheists and gay rights campaigners have been killed in attacks in the majority Muslim country. CNN approached three bloggers who know their lives are at risk to ask what they wanted the world to know. For their own safety, we didn't want to identify them. However, at their insistence, CNN has agreed to put their names to their words because, as one said, not doing so "will boost extremists' morale." "They will attack us more, believing they have achieved something and forced us to hide our names (and that) if they continue killing, they can stop our writings completely."
A Indian student looks from behind a poster with pictures of recently killed Bangladeshi bloggers during a protest meeting organised to pay homage in Kolkata on May 16, 2015.  The recent series of attacks on bloggers in Bangladesh, with the latest victim Ananta Bijoy Das mowed down by killers, is claimed to be Islamic fundamentalists affiliated to various militant groups. These groups have targeted bloggers for their secular views on the internet over the last few years.   AFP PHOTO/ Dibyangshu Sarkar        (Photo credit should read DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)
courtesy - CNN

Words in custody but killers are free, by Imran H. Sarker
Editor's note: Imran H. Sarker is a blogger, convener of the Bangladeshi Bloggers & Online Activists Network and spokesman for the GonoJagoron Moncho secular movement. The views expressed are his own.

"With the killing of one blogger after another, we seem to be heading towards total oblivion. As the world progresses under the banner of freedom of expression, we seem to be hurtling backwards. Our freedom is being silenced by the serial murder of bloggers and publishers.
Since 2013, and the onset of the Shahbag movementand its vision of a Bangladesh as a humane and secular nation, the killers' targets have been free-thinking and open-minded people. From Rajib Haider to Nazimuddin Samad, a number of blogger deaths have taken place in the past three years.

In 2015, five bloggers were killed, including prominent Bangladeshi-American writer Abhijit Roy. Every killing has created an outcry: streets have been lined with protests. But instead of focusing on solving the murders, state officials have been known to make such statements that question their commitment for justice. The procession of the dead increases as we lose our fellow warriors. The killers attempt to create one barricade after another on the road to free thought. The state watches in silence, while the people's anger wells up at the procession of killings.

In any civilized nation, people have a right to get justice. But among officials, not a single word seems to be uttered about denouncing the killers. Rather, public statements are released questioning the bloggers' writings. It is almost as if they seem to rationalizing the killers' actions. They are unable to arrest the killers, but using Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, they are imprisoning bloggers.

Commenting on the murder of Nazimuddin Samad, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said no one has the right to attack religious leaders and that the blogger's writings will be 
scrutinized by the government. This is not what you would expect to hear from the home minister of a self-proclaimed democratic country. It speaks of a spineless government that lets a murderer get away while several writers have claimed that authorities have prosecuted them. As a result of such displays of ineptitude, Bangladesh is turning into a free roaming ground for fundamentalists and their religiously-blind killer brigades. This is not the humane Bangladesh which we had dreamed of."

Still my thoughts gently weep, by Maruf Rosul
Editor's note: Maruf Rosul is a writer and contributor to the Mukto-Mona human rights blog. The views expressed are his own.

"Freedom of expression in my country is dying. If George Harrison were still alive, he probably would change the first line of his song written for the Concert for Bangladesh to these words instead. Right now, our beloved Bangladesh is bleeding ceaselessly. The land is torn asunder by the fanatics. There is no way to disagree with the establishment or to ask questions about anything, even though freedom of speech is our constitutional right.

We welcomed Awami League as ruling party because of their secular and democratic stand. But to our utter astonishment, the state machinery has turned into an instrument of suppression for freethinkers, writers, bloggers and publishers. Fundamentalists and militants are orchestrating a systematic orgy of killing. A number of bloggers, writers and publishers have been killed in the last three years and yet there is no justice.

The situation is becoming a nightmare for writers and bloggers. The killings follow the same pattern, but it is the statements from the government that are the most pathetic. These derogatory and irresponsible statements encourage killers who are trading in religion and seeking a theocratic state. We are led to assume that the government agrees with the fundamentalists, which leads to zero action on the killings.

When the state fails to take proper action, it imperils us all. The state's impotence on this matter is aiding and abetting the killers, and empowering religious bigots and fanatics. Fundamentalists are on the rampage all over the world. Freedom of speech, expression and freethinking is under threat. So the fight should be dauntless and carried out worldwide before these evil forces put another nail in the coffin of our freedom."

Hope under the shadow of machetes, by Arif Jebtik
Editor's note: Arif Jebtik is a blogger and writer. The views expressed are his own.
"When I heard that another online activist, Nazimuddin Samad, had been hacked to death, I didn't feel any rage this time. All I could feel was a load of agony, tiresome discontent and bitter heartache! It had been quite a few months since the last murder. Deep down in my heart, I was mentally prepared that maybe we would to lose a few more lives soon. Sometimes, it is just a relief to get the news that the latest victim is not me, it is still somebody else.

After my publisher, Faysal Arefin Deepon, was murdered, his father -- a Dhaka university professor and a renowned Bangladeshi intellectual -- said he would not seek justice, "as I know there is no justice out there for me." The worrying thing is, as people are losing faith in the state, hope is also diminishing. As they continue to tally their votes in order to hold power and influence, our mainstream politicians are the ones who are creating the debacles our country is currently facing right now. It is they who are silently broadening the path for radicalized murderers and extremists. Not so long ago, our largest opposition party held a mass rally demanding that bloggers be hanged. Our former prime minister said the bloggers were "estranged youth."

After the murder of Nazimuddin, our home minister told the media that the government will look into Nazimuddin's writings. When a citizen is murdered and the state's priority is finding out the subject that he wrote about rather than identifying the perpetrators, it does appear as though the government has very little interest in identifying the murderers of these bloggers. The state is now imposing boundaries in each and every aspect of our lives to give extremist outfits space to nurture and grow. In the meantime, our culture, heritage and identity are at stake.

Earlier this month, Pohela Boishakh, our welcome to the Bengali new year, was scaled down in comparison to previous years. Attacks on religious minorities and the murder of minority religious leaders are also becoming the norm. It seems like the secular society in Bangladesh is rapidly changing and more bloodshed is inevitable. However, against the odds, a handful of young people continue to carry the charge to bring back religious harmony and freedom of speech, and to restore hope and faith to our people.

And yes, I do believe that someday we will come back as a nation. We will reclaim our losses. A nation with such a strongly defined past in which all religions, races and cultures have lived together in religious harmony -- this is us, this is Bangladesh.
Maybe in this journey to reclaim our true selves, many others will lose their lives. But we continue to live in hope that our nation will triumph again soon."

see also
Ten key questions (and answers) about the attacks on atheist bloggers in Bangladesh

The Broken Middle (on the 30th anniversary of 1984)