Four down. Eighty to go.
That is according to the list of eighty-four “atheist bloggers” created by Islamist groups in 2013 and distributed with the aim of having these people arrested for blasphemy. When the Bangladeshi government would not arrest innocent people, Islamist extremists began taking matters into their own hands. Literally.
In less than six months, four secular bloggers have been attacked and killed by machete-wielding men in Bangladesh. The first and most prominent this year was Avijit Roy, who was attacked on the streets of Dhaka with his wife, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, in February. Roy founded a blog critical of religion that brought freethinkers, atheists, and the like of Bengali descent together. The most recent (as we went to press) was Niloy Neel, who was brutally slaughtered in his own home while his wife was confined in another room. Neel often discussed religion on Facebook and helped found the Bangladesh Rationalist Society. Six men entered Neel’s home under false pretenses of becoming tenants. Two of them then took Neel into a room and beheaded him with machetes. Police had previously ignored Neel’s reports claiming that his life was in danger. The Islamic group al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) claimed responsibility for all four killings.
While attacks of this nature have occurred in Bangladesh over the years, the frequency and brutality have increased significantly. Prior to 2015, there were six significant attacks resulting in only two deaths over a period of fifteen years. This year, we’ve seen four attacks all resulting in the deaths of secular bloggers in less than six months. All of these attacks were due to people publicly raising a secular voice against extremism and encouraging equal rights for all.
Bangladesh’s government and police have shown a cool indifference to these attacks by Islamist militants. As with Neel, police are not responding to impending threats ahead of attacks on any of the people on the list. Those behind these attacks will only continue as long as there are no consequences for their actions. After Neel’s death, a Bangladeshi Inspector General issued a statement saying freethinkers should not hurt religious sentiments in their writings. Essentially, the blame is placed on those exercising free speech and not those hacking people to death with machetes. The official statement sparked protests by secularists in Bangladesh and an online petition calling for the Inspector General’s resignation.
A week after Neel’s death, two men were arrested for their alleged involvement in the killing, despite claims of four to six men being involved. The following week, a British citizen and two other men were arrested for their involvement in planning two of the murders. Only seven people in total have been arrested for any of the deaths this year. No one has been charged with any crime yet. These atrocities have received international attention, including an interview on MSNBC with the Center for Inquiry’s own Michael De Dora. An open letter, signed by activists across the world, has been sent to the prime minister and president of Bangladesh from the Inter- national Humanist and Ethical Union. CFI and the U.S. government are calling upon Bangladesh to aggressively act to end future attacks on nonreligious people and protect all religious minorities in their country. It is important that the safety of all people in Bangladesh does not solely fall on CFI or other external entities. The people of Bangladesh need to demand equal treatment and protection from their government. People and groups of the world need to stand in outrage of these acts as they have done with other human rights violations.