Humanists urge Dutch Government to take action regarding Bangladesh

Published on Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Boris van den Ham, the chairman of the Dutch Humanist Association has sent the following letter to the heads of the Dutch Government urging them to bring the issue of the assassinations of the free thinkers in Bangladesh during the Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina's visit to the Netherlands. The letter has been translated from Dutch, some inadvertent changes from the original might have occurred.

To the Prime Minister Dr. M. Rutte PO Box 20001, 2500 EA Den Haag Amsterdam November 2, 2015

Subject: The visit of Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina

Dear Mr. Rutte,

Equal treatment of people based on religion or belief is one of the priorities of the human rights policy of the Government. This freedom also includes the right to apostasy and the right to criticize religion. We should address governments that violate these rights through their legislation. Governments have an important role in promoting the so-called horizontal freedom so that citizens do not lose their lives because of their views.

In this context, during the Bangladesh Prime Minister's Sheikh Hasina's visit to the Netherlands from 3 to November 6, the Humanist Society requests you to ask for the protection of secular bloggers and publishers in Bangladesh. Last Saturday, secular bloggers and publishers of atheistic books were attacked again resulting in one dead and three seriously injured. The Humanist Society is shocked and calls upon you to discuss the safety and protection requirements of secular bloggers with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

During two separate attacks on publishing entities publisher Faysal Arefin Dipan was murdered, poet Tareq Rahim, publisher/blogger Ahmed Rashid Tutul and writer Sudeep Kumar Roy Barman (pseudonym Ranadipam Basu) were seriously injured.

The victims are known as atheistic. The attacks were claimed by Ansar Al Islam or Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), an extremist Islamist organization, inspired by Al-Qaeda. Previous attacks and killings were also claimed by the same entity.

Unfortunately, it is not the first time that freethinkers in Bangladesh are harmed. Earlier this year, atheist bloggers Avijit Roy (February), Washiqur Rahman (March), Ananta Bijoy Das (May) and Nalidri Chatterjee (August) were killed with machetes. In 2013, Ahmed Rajib Haider was slain and Asif Mohiuddin was attacked. The wife of writer Avijit Roy, Rafida Ahmed, herself a blogger, was the assault victim in February. She survived the attack.

The murder of Dipan is the fifth one of atheistic writers and publishers in Bangladesh in less than a year. Dipan owned Jagriti publishing house and published Avijit Roy's Philosophy of Disbelief. The other victims were involved in the editing work of Avijit Roy. Ahmed Tutul, now in critical condition in a hospital, is the owner of a publishing house called the Shudhoshor. This publishing house publishes more books on secularism and atheism.

Dozens of other atheist bloggers are on a death list and they receive regular death threats. They are in deep anguish. All these writers, publishers and bloggers were and are engaged peacefully, through written and spoken words, for humanism, free thought, secularism and against religious extremism. But the free and peaceful expression of humanistic and secular ideas are almost impossible to practice in Bangladesh. These bloggers experience far too little support from the Government and feel unprotected.

Now that you are receiving a delegation of the Bangladesh Government, we call upon you to bring up the matter of secular and humanistic bloggers and ask the Bangladeshi Prime Minister to protect their lives. We ask you also to convey this message to Her Royal Highness Queen Maxima so that she can raise the issue during her meeting with the Bangladeshi Prime Minister.

We ask you to convey to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that Bangladeshi government should be fully committed to the following:

  • Clear and unmistakable condemnation of the attacks and attackers.

  • Effective and sufficient protection for the group of freethinkers and atheist bloggers on the death list and the booksellers and publishers of atheistic works.

  • Adequate police and investigative efforts to arrest and prosecute the killers; police should be instructed to give the highest priority to these cases.

  • Political isolation of citizens and politicians who approve the murder of atheist bloggers, This includes the Minister of Industries of the Committee for Law and Order, Amir Hossain Amu, who called the atheistic writers criminal.

  • Abolish the legislation which calls for imprisonment from seven to 14 years with fines for offending religious sensitivity (Information Communication Technology Act 57) and assure the constitutional freedom free speech.

Such a call made by the International Humanist and secular movement earlier this year through an open letter to the Bangladeshi President and Prime Minister. The open letter was signed by many academics and liberal religious organizations.

We believe that the bloggers in Bangladesh deserve our support, just like all the people in the world who want to express freely their convictions.

Yours sincerely, Boris van der Ham President Humanist Association The Netherlands

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