On 26 November, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning severe violations of freedom of expression and horrific violence against secularist writers, publishers and bloggers in Bangladesh. However, MEPs kept silent on the very harsh national blasphemy-like legislations.
These last years, Islamists’ violence against proponents of free speech, rationalism and humanism online has literally exploded in the country. In 2015 only, five secular and humanist bloggers were hacked to death by Islamist groups for promoting humanism and secularism, voicing skeptical and rationalist arguments, peacefully calling for justice and freedoms in Bangladesh.
Niladri Chatterjee (Niloy Neel), Ananta Bijoy Das, Md Washiqur Rahman Babu and Avijit Roy were murdered on respectively 7 August, 12 May, 30 March and 27 February 2015. In October, the editor Faisal Arefin Dipan was brutally murdered with machetes inside his office in Dhaka while Ahmed Rashid Tutul, another publisher of slain blogger Avijit Roy, was deeply injured along with two other writers and bloggers — Rono Dipam Basu and Tareq Rahim.
In the face of this dramatic increase of brutal violence against non-religious people in Bangladesh, the European Union, especially EU high representative for foreign affairs and the European Parliament, has been silent for too long. We, therefore, welcome this resolution that, despite its late adoption, finally condemns the murder of proponents of free speech and rationalism and urges Bangladesh authorities to stop impunity prevailing in the country. MEPs also urged Bangladesh Government to prevent any further killings and to ensure the security of all its citizens, regardless their religious beliefs.
But the violence against free thinkers also comes from the government
Even if we welcome this necessary move, we deeply regret that the European Parliament didn’t go as far as urging Bangladesh Government to decriminalize blasphemy and religious insult in the country.
Legislation is still very harsh for those who “hurt religious beliefs” with their words, acts or writings. Both Bangladesh penal code (section 295A and 298) and the Information and Communication Act 2006 (section 57) provide for either imprisonment up to 14 years or a fine or both.
The existence of “blasphemy”-like legal restrictions has been regularly used by Bangladesh authorities to harass and curtail the freedom of expression of the very people being targeted with violence and assassination by Islamist aggressors. Just last month, NGO chair Mohon Kumar Mondal was arrested under the ICT Act and charged for “damaging the religious sentiment of Muslims”.
In 2013, the EU explicitly committed to requesting the removal of legislations criminalizing “blasphemy” and “religious insults” worldwide. We therefore strongly regret this lost opportunity to put this engagement into practice and call the European Parliament for stronger stands in the future.
At the EHF, we will continue our work towards the EU Council and the European External Action Service to push this request forward. As we have also received many calls for help from Bangladeshi bloggers at threat, we will also maintain our coordination with other Human rights NGOs to help relocate these people.
If you want to help us and speak out for Bangladeshi free thinkers, see here for possible concrete actions.