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#SpeakOut: Literary greats pen open letter to Bangladesh government over blogger killings

Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy’s bloodied wife gestures after Mr Roy was hacked to death on a Dhaka street in February

Salman Rushdie, Yann Martel, Neel Mukherjee, Amitav Ghosh and Margaret Atwood are among dozens of writers who have penned an open letter to the Bangladesh government condemning the deaths of three secular bloggers in the country over the past 12 months.

In the letter, published in the Guardian on Friday, the writers called for the government of Prime Minister Hasina Wajed to act to “swiftly” bring the killers of Ananta Bijoy Das, Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman Babu to justice.

Mr Das, a 33-year-old bank worker who was a contributor to the secular blog ‘Mukto-Mona’ (Free Mind) was hacked to death last week in broad daylight in the northern city of Sylhet.

The blog had been the brainchild of Avijit Roy who was similarly hacked to death in February while returning home with his wife from a book fair in Dhaka.

On March 30, Washiqur Rahman, another secular blogger who aired his outrage over Roy’s death on social media, was killed in similar fashion on a busy street in the Bangladeshi capital.

Booker Prize-winning novelist Martel, author of ‘Life of Pi’, told the Guardian: “The government of Bangladesh might be more subject to influence because of this letter than a government in the west, where letters and petitions and appeals and the like are always flying about, and politicians grown inured to them.

“My hope is that the government of Sheikh Hasina might actually be mortified by this letter.”

The three murders bring the total number of authors who have been attacked in Bangladesh since 2013 to six. 

Here’s the letter in full:

Dear Prime Minister Hasina Wajed,

We, the undersigned writers, come together to condemn the horrific deaths of our colleagues Ananta Bijoy Das (or Dash), Washiqur Rahman Babu and Avijit Roy, three secular bloggers who have been brutally murdered on the streets of Bangladesh in the last three months.  We urge you and your government to do all in your power to ensure that the tragic events of the last three months are not repeated, and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

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.

We call on the Bangladeshi authorities to swiftly and impartially investigate Ananta Bijoy Das’s death 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. We 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.

Elisabeth Abendroth
Jim Aitken
Truijens Aleid
Frank Mackay Anim-Appiah
Frankie Asare-Donkoh, President, Ghana PEN Centre
Margaret Atwood
Michael Augustin
Dr.Hanan Awwad, President, Palestine PEN
Cecilia Balcázar
Elke Bannach
María Cecilia Barbetta
Niels Barfoed
Shrabani Basu
Nazmi Bayrı
Ronald Bos
Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International
Suzanne Brøgger
Dr. Barbara Bronnen
Ricky Brown
Urvashi Butalia
Joyce Caplan
Metin Cengiz
Sudeep Chakravarty
Anne Clarke
Jennifer Clement
Jo Clifford
Anne Connolly
Daniela Dahn
Swapan Dasgupta
Rachna Davidar
Aline Davidoff, President, PEN Mexico
Alexis de Roode
Siddharta Deb
Job Degenaar
Antonio Della Rocca, President, PEN Trieste
Renan Demirkan
Meghnad Desai
Faisal Devji
Dr Mathias Schreiber
Dr Burkhart Veigel
Suzanne Egerton
John Elliott
Peter Englund
Haydar Ergülen
Roberto Fabris
Moris Farhi
Fahimeh Farsaie
Charles Foran
Öyvind Foss
Maureen Freely, President, English PEN
Uwe Friesel
Jostein Gaarder
Meenakshi Ganguly
Nina George
Amitav Ghosh
Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN
Brigitte C. Gotthold
Professor Lutz Götze
Fiona Graham
Gloria Guardia
Michael Guggenheimer
Apar Gupta
Daniel Hahn
Kaiser Haq
Josef Haslinger, President, German PEN
Gert Heidenreich
Christoph Hein
Hallgrímur Helgason
Werner  Holzer
Jules Horne
Iman Humaydan
Khademul Islam, Member, Bangladesh PEN
Anjali Joseph
Wim Jurg
Sirpa Kähkönen, President, Finnish PEN
Raghu Karnad
Lucina Kathmann
Jan Kemp
Andrej Khadanovich, President, Belarusian PEN
Charlie King
Tanja Kinkel
Karl Ove Knausgaard
Sibylle Knauss
Christoph König
Anja Kovacs
Hari Kunzru
Ola Larsmo, President, Swedish PEN
Joanne Leedom-Ackerman
Professor Christoph Lindenmeyer
Joan Lingard
Chiara Macconi
Kona Macphee
Rishi Majumder
Emile Martel, President, Quebec PEN
Yann Martel
Christine McKenzie, President, PEN Melbourne
Kyle Mewburn, President, PEN NZ
Alison Miller
Sam Miller
Denise Mina
Rohinton Mistry
Petra Morsbach
Lina Morselli
Neel Mukherjee
Ayten Mutlu
Maureen Myant
Vayoo Naidu
Hege Newth Nouri
William Nygaar, President, Norwegian PEN
Harry Oberländer
Hans-Christian Oeser
Vida Ognjenovic
Per Øhrgaard, President, Danish PEN
Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir
Zeynep Oral, President, PEN Turkey
Margie Orford, President, PEN South Africa
Mete Özel
Kaiser ÖzHun
Ra Page
Peter Parker
Per Petterson
Professor Gabriele Pommerin-Götze
Tom Pow
Jean Rafferty
Anita Raghawan
John Ralston Saul, President, PEN International
Ashis Ray
Monika Rinck
Judith Rodriguez
Thomas Rothschild
Nilanjana Roy
Anuradha Roy
Elisabeth Ruge
Salman Rushdie
Gita Sahgal
Minoli Salgado
Alejandro Sánchez-Aizcorbe
Ulrike Sandig
Professor Philippe Sands QC
Ashwin  Sanghi
Rajdeep Sardesai
Ayse Sarisayan
Carole Satyamurthy
Samantha Schnee
Christa Schuenke
Andrew Sclater
Sjon, President, Icelandic PEN
Morelle Smith
Claire Squires
Elizabeth Starcevic
Leslie Stevenson
Liam Stewart
Klaus Theweleit
Annika Thor
Elsa Tió
Pragya Tiwari
Colm Tóibín
Carles Torner, Director, PEN International
Hannah Trevarthen
Salil Tripathi
Cynthia Troup
Aleid Truijens
Tina Uebel
Linn Ullmann
Manon Uphoff, President, PEN Netherlands
Amir Valle Ojeda
Karthika VK
Martin A. Völker
Gabriele von Arnim
Catherine Vuylsteke
Per Wästberg
Harry Watson
Herbert Wiesner
Les Wilson
Yazici Yasemin
Halim Yazıcı
Çetin Yiğenoğlu
Arnold Zable
Atiya Zaidi

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