In response to the multiple murders of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh this year alone, and the law enforcement official who recently said this problem could be solved if only the atheists would stop criticizing religious beliefs, the International Humanist and Ethical Union has coordinated an open letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and President Abdul Hamid, signed by atheist activists from around the world.
The letter, which I was proud to add my name to, calls on the Bangladeshi government to “stop ‘victim-blaming’ the bloggers and instead focus on catching the extremists who are murdering them.”
Specifically, it calls on officials to do four things:
- 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.
IHEU President Andrew Copson issued this statement about the letter and those who signed it:
“As each of these bloggers, activists, and humanists has been cut down, there has been a tremendous outpouring of grief not just in Bangladesh but among the humanist and human rights community globally. The grief is followed by a frustration that intensifies each time, as the failures of the authorities begin to amount to victim-blaming and a sort of collective harassment.
“We wanted to show something of that collective solidarity and anguish in this open letter. From threatened Bangladeshi bloggers, to some of the leading international civil society organisations for freedom of expression; from students at Dhaka University, to established academics all over the world; lone activists, humanist associations, Muslims, Ex-Muslims, all the signatories are presented shoulder to shoulder, in a single column, to emphasise that we are equal and united in this cause. The government of Bangladesh must recognise that those who speak their minds on political Islamism, who express their humanist values, who defend the constitutionally secular democracy of Bangladesh, have every right to do so, and they have friends all over the world who want to see that right respected and upheld.”
Like I said, I’m proud to stand with the Bangladeshi bloggers on this issue.
Most of us who signed the letter freely speak out against religion without having to worry about our safety, but the list also includes some atheists who are on the terrorist hit-list. They’re showing tremendous courage by attaching their names to this.
If the Bangladeshi government won’t listen to us individually, maybe they’ll notice when hundreds of us speak as one.
On a similar note, be sure to check out the separate plea from Mukto-Mona, the publication many of the murdered atheists were associated with.