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Bangladesh: Four Bloggers Killed Since February

(Aug. 27, 2015) In less than eight months, four bloggers who were considered to be non-religious in their writings have been killed in Bangladesh. They are Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman Babu, Ananta Bijoy Das, and Niloy Chatterjee. In 2013 another blogger, Rajib Haider, was stabbed to death. (Jason Burke & Saad Hammadi, Bangladesh Blogger Killed by Machete Gang Had Asked for Police Protection, GUARDIAN (Aug. 7, 2015).)

Bloggers Arrested for Anti-Religious Publications

According to a news article posted in a 2013 publication jointly created by The Huffington Post and the Berggruen Insitute, the Bangladeshi government has been criticized for arresting a number of secular bloggers and journalists, based on what are described as their anti-Islamic publications, and for controlling social media, blogs and online newspapers. (Emran Hossain, Bangladesh Arrests “Atheist Bloggers,” Cracking Down on Critics, WORLD POST (Apr. 3, 2013).) The Berggruen Institute is a non-governmental organization that describes itself as “dedicated to the design and implementation of new ideas of good governance.” (Berggruen Institute, Berggruen Institute website (last visited Aug. 26, 2015).)

Bangladesh’s Inspector General of Police has recently reminded bloggers about the applicable penal laws of Bangladesh. (IGP Suggests Bangladesh Bloggers to Not “Cross the Line,” Not Write Blogs That May Hurt Religious Sensitivities, BDNEWS24 (Aug. 9, 2015).)

Applicable Laws

Freedom of speech is guaranteed under the Constitution of Bangladesh, other than as subject to “any reasonable restrictions imposed by law….” (The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (Nov. 4, 1972), art. 39, LAWS OF BANGLADESH.)

However, section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act of 2006 states that “a publication’s causing law and order to deteriorate or creating the possibility of it deteriorating, or potentially hurting religious beliefs or instigating against any person or organization has been defined as a crime.” (Information and Communications Technology Act (2006, as amended by Act 42, 2013), § 57(1), LAWS OF BANGLADESH (in Bengali).) That Act goes on to specify that offenders found guilty of this crime may be subject to imprisonment for from seven to fourteen years and fined up to BDT10 million (about US$109,800). (Id. § 57 (2).)

The Penal Code also outlines a crime related to the expression of ideas, stating,

Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of the citizens of Bangladesh, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. (The Penal Code, 1860 (Oct. 6, 1860, as amended up to 2010), Ch. XV, § 295A, LAWS OF BANGLADESH.)

The Code additionally provides for a punishment of up to one year, a fine, or both for anyone who “with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture in the sight of that person or places any object in the sight of that person” (Id., Ch. XLV, § 298; for an interpretation of these laws by Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua, see Amended Information Technology and Communication Act, DAILY STAR (Jan. 1, 2014, last modified Mar. 8, 2015).)

The homicide provisions of the Penal Code include the statement that murder is to be punished with death or life imprisonment; a fine may also be applied. (Id. Ch. XLV, § 302.)

Reaction of Civil Society to the Current State of Affairs

The blogging and activist communities of Bangladesh and representatives of human rights organizations have requested that the government protect them from the threats of religious extremists, take appropriate measures against the killers of secular bloggers, and repeal section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act and section 295A of the Penal Code. (Joint Open Letter to Prime Minister and President of Bangladesh, International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) website (Aug. 18, 2015).)

Bloggers’ Requests for Asylum Have Varying Success

According to news articles, a number of secular bloggers who received death threats had tried and failed to obtain asylum in foreign countries. (Steffen Daniel Meyer, A Bangladeshi Blogger’s Asylum Dilemma, VICE (Sept. 12, 2013).) In a recent incident, The Daily Star reported that Ananta Bijoy Das, who was killed in May 2015, had tried to gain asylum in Europe but failed. (Blogger Killed Again in Bangladesh, DAILY STAR (May, 15, 2015).)

The IHEU has requested “all countries to recognize the legitimacy and sometimes the urgency and moral necessity of asylum claims made by humanists, atheists and secularists who are being persecuted for daring to express those views.” (Third Atheist Writer Hacked to Death in Bangladesh This Year, IHEU website (May 12, 2015).)

Hearing in U.S. Congress Discusses Impact on Bangladesh – U.S. Trade Relations

According to the testimony of Lisa Curtis, a Senior Research Fellow at the Asian Studies Center of the Heritage Foundation, although the United States is Bangladesh’s biggest export market, the political and religious extremism in the country may be an obstacle blocking its economic interests. (Bangladesh’s Fracture: Political and Religious Extremism: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, 114th Congress, (Apr. 30. 2015), at 5.)

Details on Some Individual Blogger Murder Cases

1. Ahmed Rajib Haider

Secular blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was killed on February 15, 2013. The case is still being heard in court. On March 18, 2015, the judge of the Court of Fourth Additional Metropolitan Sessions indicted eight suspects in the murder, however, the case was transferred to Speedy Trial Court-3 and is still in process. (Next Hearing on Blogger Rajib Murder Aug 16, BANGLADESH SANGBAD SANGSTHA (BSS) (Aug. 9, 2015); Md. Sanaul Islam Tipu, Indictment Hearing in Blogger Rajib Murder Case on September 2, DHAKA TRIBUNE (Aug. 20, 2015).)

2. Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das

Bangladeshi-American secular blogger Avijit Roy was killedon March 20, 2015. Farabi Shafiur Rahman has been arrested as a prime suspect in the case, although not all the suspects involved have as yet been identified. According to a news article, Rahman had been arrested in the Haider homicide case, but he was later released on bail. (Shameema Rahman, Murder of Avijit Roy, American-Bangladeshi Blogger, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Mar. 20, 2015).) On August 18, 2015, three additional suspects were arrested in connection with the murder of Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das, who was killed in Sylhet Bangladesh on May 12 of this year. (Blogger Killings: “Mastermind” Held in Dhaka, DAILY STAR (Aug. 18, 2015).)

3. Washiqur Rahman

Washiqur Rahman, was killed on March 30, 2015 in Dhaka. Two students from local madrasas have been arrested in this case, but no information on any conviction has been reported. (Krishnadev Calamur, Bangladeshi Blogger Hacked to Death; 2 Students Arrested, NPR (Mar. 30, 2015).)

4. Niloy Chatterjee Murder Case

On August 6, 2015, secular blogger Niloy Chatterjee was killed in Dhaka. According to a news report, Ansar al-Islam, a local chapter of al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for this killing. (Ansar-Al-Islam Claims Responsibility for Niladri Murder, DAILY STAR (Aug. 8, 2015).) Niloy had spoken against religious fundamentalism and extremism. He was also a supporter of women’s rights and the rights of indigenous people. Two suspects have been arrested in this case. (Bangladesh Blogger Niloy Neel Hacked to Death in Dhaka, BBC NEWS (Aug. 7, 2015).)