On Wednesday, August 18, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) was pleased to announce in a press release that a “Huge alliance protests government response to Bangladesh blogger murders“:
Following a string of brutal “machete” murders of Bangladeshi writers, all of whom had blogged about humanism, secularism, and atheist critiques of religion, a groundbreaking open letter today (Wednesday) calls on the Bangladeshi government to stop “victim-blaming” the bloggers, and instead focus on catching the extremists who are murdering them.
The letter accuses authorities of “making matters worse” after the most recent murder, of blogger Niladri Chatterjee (pen name Niloy Neel) on 7 August. First, the Inspector General of Police condemned the killings, but went on to tell bloggers, “Do not cross the limit. Do not hurt anyone’s religious belief”, and suggested that more bloggers criticisng religion and advocating humanism would be arrested under the country’s online communications laws. The sentiments were repeated by the Cabinet Committee for Law and Order, as well as the Home Minister, a stand which the open letter describes as state institutions engaging in “victim-blaming”. The police also said those named on new Islamist militant “hit lists”, including bloggers, poets and academics, should “lodge a police complaint” if they thought they were being “followed”, an approach summed up in the letter as a “grossly inadequate, highly negligent response to what is evidently a most serious and potentially fatal threat.”
As the IHEU press release points out, “What makes the letter so groundbreaking is the list of supporters.” The list of supporters is available at the end of the letter, and as one of the signatories to the “Joint open letter to Prime Minister and President of Bangladesh,” I am pleased to see so many signatures from individual Canadians, Canadian bloggers and Canadian organizations:
Alice Klein — President, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, CJFE
Alex Zakreski — Member, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression – CJFE
Brendan de Caires — Programs & Communications Coordinator, PEN Canada
David Rand — President, Libres penseurs athées – Atheist Freethinkers, Canada
Hasan Mahmud — Advisory Board Member, World Muslim Congress; General Secretary, Muslims Facing Tomorrow, Canada
Ian Bushfield — Executive Director British Columbia Humanist Association
Sean McGuire — Blogger, My Secret Atheist Blog
Sheila Ayala — Secular Ontario
The Board of Directors of Humanist Canada
Ontario Humanist Society
The “Open Letter” in English and Bangla makes it very clear to Bangladeshi PM and President that the signatories are
concerned members of the blogging and activist community of Bangladesh and internationally, along with representatives of human rights organisations and other civil society organisations and supporters, wish to protest in the strongest possible terms the institutional attack on Bangladeshi citizens who profess humanist, atheist or secularist views.
and implore Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and President Abdul Hamid to
• ensure the safety and security of those individuals whose lives are threatened by Islamist extremists, including the witnesses and family members
•instruct the police to find the killers, not to harass or blame the victims
•disassociate yourself publicly from those who call for death penalties against non-religious Bangladeshis, and ensure using your executive authority that individuals within your party membership maintain the same standard of respect for freedom of conscience and expression
•work decisively for legal reform to repeal Section 295A of the Penal Code and section 57 of the ICT Act of 2006, in order to bring the legal system of Bangladesh in line with the spirit and values of freedom of expression and ‘of conscience’ as enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh, and as per obligations under the international human rights instruments to which Bangladesh is party.
The “Open Letter” points out,
People must be able to discuss and debate religion and politics, beliefs and practices. If they cannot, then injustice, fear and violence will reign.
However, lest Canadians become too complacent as they support freedom of expression in Bangladesh, they need to be reminded that Canada has a blasphemy law; Bill 59: “Quebec’s Proposed Anti-Hate Speech Bill Is Cause For Concern,” and Rassemblement pour la laïcité has condemned the pretence of state secularism proposed by the Couillard government.
Canadians are not immune to threats against their freedom to discuss and debate religion and politics, beliefs and practices.