Early this morning, Ananta Bijoy Das was murdered, hacked to death by four assailants on the streets close to his home.
Ananta had been on a list of atheist bloggers produced by Islamist political parties in 2013. They demanded a death penalty for ‘blasphemy’, and since then several writers on the list have been murdered, always by machete attack. Ananta was also named on a new hit list in March [Bangla] in connection with a group called Ansarullah Bangla Team.
Ananta wrote to IHEU at the time:
“It seems to me I am one of the targets . I am not sure how long I will hide myself. But I am sure If they will find me they will do what they did with Mr. Avijit Roy. My life is seriously unsecured . I am not sure how can I protect myself & my family.”
International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) statement (12 May 2015):
Each of these murders is a crushing loss to the humanist and secularist communities of South Asia and the world.
IHEU condemns this murder in the strongest possible terms, as well as the failures of the Bangladeshi authorities to bring to justice the individuals and to break the networks behind this string of targeted killings. Whether from apathy, or incompetence, or intimidation, the police and government are utterly failing Bangladeshi humanist, atheist and secularist writers, thinkers and activists.
Ananta Bijoy Das had reached out to us at IHEU following the murders of Avijit and Washiqur. Accepting the very serious threat to this life, we advised Ananta in trying to make the difficult move out of danger. However, we have been informed that his application for a visa to travel to Sweden, under invitation from Swedish PEN, was rejected last week by the Swedish embassy in Dhaka, on the basis that he might seek to remain in Sweden.
We call on all countries to recognise 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.
We’ve been in contact with several Bangladeshi humanists, in particular since Avijit Roy was killed in February. These writers are not hateful, not intolerant; they write about science and politics, they are proponents of secularism, they voice skeptical and rationalist arguments, they call for justice and for humanism. They are desperately and increasingly concerned that they, too, have been named on the Islamist death lists.
Their murderers are assassinating writers in an attempt to terrify a nation against voicing humanist and secularist values and ideas, and to deter any criticism of religious beliefs or religious authorities. Their vile campaign of intimidation and terror must be met — not with hollow words and appeasement — but with strenuous, rigorous justice.
Swedish PEN confirmed in a statement [Swedish] that they had invited Ananta to Sweden to talk about the threat to atheists in Bangladesh, but his visa application was refused, despite the clear and demonstrated mortal threat to atheist writers in Bangladesh, and despite the support of PEN for his visit. Swedish PEN demand:
“a detailed and credible explanation of why the Swedish Embassy in Dhaka chosen not to grant Ananta Bioy Dash the visa he needed to meet the Swedish PEN’s invitation to speak in Stockholm”
In the visa refusal letter seen by IHEU (sent by the Embassy of Sweden in Dhaka to Ananta Bijoy Das on 22 April 2015) the embassy notes among other considerations: “you are unmarried and you do not have any children”, as reason to consider the applicant not “well established in Bangladesh”, therefore:
…you have not made it likely that the purpose of the journey is only for a short visit for a meeting and not settlement there. You belong to a category of applicants where there is always a risk involved when granting a visa that you will not leave Schengen area after the visit.
Furthermore, the purpose of your trip is not urgent enough to grant you visa. With regards to this and different circumstances in your case as well as different visa regulations you do not fulfil the requirements for a visa. Your application is therefore rejected.
Prior to Ananta’s murder this morning, blogger Md Washiqur (or Oyasiqur) Rahman Babu was hacked to death on March 30 this year, in Tejgaon, Dhaka, his attackers claiming they had been instructed to kill him as their “Islamic duty”. Avijit Roy was killed February 27 2015, outside the Dhaka book fair, in an attack which also seriously injured his wife Bonya Ahmed. On November 15 2014 Prof Shafiul Islam was similarly killed in broad daylight near his Choddopai residence close to Rajshahi University campus. Ahmed Rajeeb Haider, a blogger, architect, and activist of the Shahbagh movement, was hacked to death in the capital’s Pallabi on February 15, 2013. All had been accused of ‘offending Islam’ one way or another.
This article has been updated with additional information.