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The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has called on the Bangladesh Government to take urgent action to protect the lives of atheists bloggers in the country and reform its laws so as to protect their freedom of religion, belief, and expression.

bangla-744x447In a written statement to the UN Human Rights Council [A/HRC/29/NGO/69], the IHEU raised its serious concerns about the situation for those who seek to express their criticism of political Islam, Islamism, or religious militancy, who advocate secularism, or who identify as atheist in Bangladesh.

Over the past few years there has been a pattern of vicious attacks specifically targeting Bangladesh’s secular / atheist blogging community, which the state authorities seem either unable or unwilling to prevent.

During the first five months of 2015, three atheist bloggers were hacked to death on the streets of Bangladesh. As yet, no one has been successfully prosecuted over the attacks and there is said to exist a ‘hit-list’ compiled by radical Islamists in Bangladesh which includes the names of many secularist writers, bloggers and journalists – the three bloggers killed this year were reportedly named on that list also. The IHEU is in touch with over a dozen atheist writers / bloggers who are living in fear for their life.

The Government of Bangladesh has not only failed to offer public condolences to the families of the murdered bloggers this year, but it has taken the opportunity to reiterate that existing laws are sufficient to punish anyone who attempts to insult religion. Under the existing cyber laws in Bangladesh, a person can be jailed for up to 10 years if convicted of defaming a religion online.

In our submission, we described this as key in contributing to “a public space in which minorities, whether critical of religion, Islamism, or the Government, are muted by fear of reactive extreme violence; a space full of danger and intimidation for those who seek to exercise their fundamental human rights to freedom of religion, belief and expression as protected by international law.”

We argued that, “By enabling this climate, Bangladesh is acting in contravention of its international obligations on human rights and betraying those who are courageous enough to speak out against religious extremism and militancy in the country.”

We called on the Human Rights Council to put pressure on Bangladesh to urgently bring to justice those responsible for the brutal attacks, and to make clear that attacking freedom of religion and expression will not be tolerated. Contrary to its actions so far, we also called on Bangladesh’s Government to make a clear and public statement clarifying that the right to freedom of religion or belief applies to those with no religious belief as well – we argued that the importance of the country’s leader recognising atheists as moral agents in possession of the same rights as religious citizens should not be underestimated.

Our call comes in tandem with Bangladeshi writer Bonya Ahmed delivering the British Humanist Association’s 2015 Voltaire Lecture this evening, after her husband, Avijit Roy, was brutally murdered by Islamic extremists earlier this year. She which she will speak of her life with Avijit and of their quest to promote secularism. After arriving in the UK, she called on the UK Government to do more to tackle extremism and to put pressure on international governments to tackle the growing persecution of humanists and the non-religious internationally.

The End Blasphemy Campaign has published an action alert on the situation for atheist bloggers in Bangladesh, saying that “There is an urgent need to raise awareness of this issue and to call on the government of Bangladesh to guarantee the safety of its atheist bloggers, to respect the human right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief, and to prosecute those who threaten, attack and harm bloggers who simply seek to exercise such a right.”

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