More than 150 writers from around the world, including Margaret Atwood, Amitav Ghosh, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Yann Martel, Salman Rushdie and Colm Tóibín have condemned the murders of Ananta Bijoy Das (or Dash), Washiqur Rahman Babu and Avijit Roy, three secular bloggers who have been brutally killed in Bangladesh this year.
The group includes writers, publishers and lawyers who have joined PEN International and English PEN in calling on Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina Wajed and her government to do all in their power to ensure that the tragic events of the last three months are not repeated and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The letter, signed by PEN members across the globe, states:
We were shocked and horrified by last week’s murder of 32-year-old blogger and editor Ananta Bijoy Das, who was hacked to death on his way to work by a masked gang wielding machetes in the city of Sylhet on 12 May. Prior to his death, Ananta Bijoy Das had reportedly received a number of death threats from Islamist militants, and his name had appeared in two assassination lists published in the Bangladeshi media, alongside those of other secular bloggers described as anti-Islamic and blasphemous.
Less than two months earlier, on 26 February, fellow blogger and close friend of Ananta Bijoy Das, Avijit Roy was similarly brutally killed. Roy and his wife Rafida Ahmed Bonya, were viciously attacked by unknown assailants close to the Dhaka University campus. Roy died soon afterwards whilst Rafida Ahmed Bonya was severely injured. A militant Islamist group has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack.
A month later, on 29 March, blogger Washiqur Rahman Babu was murdered just 500 yards from his home in Begunbari, Dhaka. Police have claimed that the attackers targeted the 27-year-old blogger because they believed he had defamed Islam through his writings on websites, forums and social media. Two students from a madrassa (an Islamic school) have since been arrested in connection with Rahman’s killing.
At least three other writers have been attacked or murdered in Bangladesh since 2013 and, although there have been several arrests, no one has been held to account for any of these attacks. We are gravely concerned by this escalating pattern of violence against writers and journalists who are peacefully expressing their views. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right under Bangladesh’s constitution as well as one of the rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The authors have called on the Bangladeshi authorities to investigate Ananta Bijoy Das’s death swiftly and impartially as well as the murders of Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman Babu, and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice in accordance with international fair trial standards. They also demand that the authorities do all in their power to provide protection and support to bloggers and other writers at risk in Bangladesh, in accordance with Bangladesh’s obligations under national and international law.
Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN, said:
‘This is a campaign of violence against bloggers and writers who are courageous enough to speak out in a hostile culture for free speech. The government of Bangladesh must urgently address the climate of impunity and be seen to safeguard freedom of expression. These shocking events have united writers throughout the world in an important show of solidarity.’
John Ralston Saul, President of PEN International, said:
‘Since my time in Dhaka late last year, I have seen the situation slip steadily downhill. The government, and the Prime Minister in particular, have the responsibility and the ethical obligation to stop this violence and to ensure that Bangladesh meets acceptable standards of both democracy and the rule of law, which are needed to protect the citizens’ right to free expression.’