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Is The Bangladeshi Government Using Islamic Extremists To Wage A Proxy War On Free Speech?

April 27, 2016

It would appear that the Bangladeshi government values the reputations of religious leaders over the rights of its citizens. To be clear, I’m talking about very basic human rights like freedom of speech, and freedom from fear…of having your head cut off for exercising your right to free speech.


For the sixth time in just over a year, a ‘Bangladeshi writer of atheist material’ has been murdered in Bangladesh, CNN reports.

The latest killing took the life of Nazimuddin Samad a 26-year-old grad student. Per reports, Samad was on his way home from night class when he was surrounded by three or four people, hacked with machetes, and then shot.

No arrests have been made, but Ansar al-Islam a division of Al Qaeda on the Indian Subcontinent has taken responsibility for the murder. Bangladeshi authorities have rejected this claim and say the deed was done by homegrown militants.

Bangladesh’s stance on religious freedom and free speech appears to be as murky as an atheist blogger’s ability to keep his head attached to his body when criticizing Islam in the majority Muslim country.

Islam is the constitutionally defined state religion of Bangladesh, but the document also includes a clause that promises to defend the ‘principle of secularism,’ CNN reports.

It remains unclear how far that defense of secularism actually extends as evidenced by statements from Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kahn following Samad’s killing.

“Why are they using these kind of languages against religious establishment? In our country, we do not allow these kind of languages. It is restricted by our law,” he told CNN.

“No one has the right to attack religious leaders — be it Prophet Mohammad, Guru Nanak or Jesus.”

Peers described Samad as a secular activist with liberal views. “He was very vocal on issues of religious fundamentalism, war crimes, minority issues, corruption and injustice against women,” Sarker said.

“He used to regularly post notes on Facebook expressing his views.”

Sadly Samad is not the first blogger to find himself in the crosshairs of Islamic extremists. In 2015, Islamic extremists from the Ansarullah Bangla Team published a hit list of secular writers.

“Let Bangladesh revoke the citizenship of these enemies of Islam,” a statement accompanying the list says. “If not, we will hunt them down in whatever part of God’s world we find them and kill them right there.”

Ansar al-Islam reportedly did the same thing in 2014, and according to some at least nine writers on that list have been killed, and others attacked. Bloggers in Bangladesh have been killed with frightening brutality.

Avajit Roy was hacked to death with machetes and knives after leaving a book fair. Washiqur Rahman was killed outside of his home by men armed with machetes and meat cleavers. Anant Bijoy Das was ambushed on his way to work and killed with cleavers and machetes, and another was murdered inside of his apartment.

Imran Sarker, the President of the Blogger and Online Activists’ Network in Bangladesh told CNN that the killings have been part of a struggle between hardliners and activists that started in 2013.

“When the liberal bloggers got united and started a movement against radicalization of the society by the militant groups,” he said.

Following Samad’s death, UN Special Reporter Karima Bennoune called extremism a human rights issue and she is absolutely correct.

There is a growing movement of bloggers, writers, and other free thinkers in Bangladesh and around the Muslim world who are speaking out to promote and protect liberal social ideas; in doing so they are also risking death and dismemberment.

In addition to attacks by extremist groups, Human Rights Watch has slammed the Bangladeshi government for cracking down on and prosecuting activists, members of the media, and political opposition.

“There is no effective political opposition in parliament because the main parties chose not to participate, but now the Sheikh Hasina government seems determined to stem all dissenting voices – even outside the parliament,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “It is terrible that when bloggers were murdered, the government could only preach self-censorship.”

By allowing the wanton slaughter of writers to go unchecked, and assigning blame to the victims for questioning religion the Bangladeshi government is, at the very least, failing to protect basic human freedoms. When taking into account claims that the government is working to silence political opposition, one could reach the conclusion that Bangladeshi officials are using extremist groups to wage a sort of proxy war on free thinkers.

If vocal defenders of basic human rights continue to be visited upon with machetes and meat cleavers then a free society in Bangladesh doesn’t stand a chance.