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Attack Survivor Speaks Out Against Islamists, Bangladesh Government

John Bechtel
2015-12-02
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Rafida Bonya Ahmed is carried on a stretcher after being attacked in Dhaka on Feb. 26, 2015. Ahmed is speaking out against Islamists who killed her husband and other secular writers and bloggers this year.
AFP

A Bangladeshi-American woman who survived a machete attack in February that killed her husband, Avijit Roy, on a crowded street in Dhaka says the atmosphere in Bangladesh is becoming dire for secular writers and bloggers.

"These bloody days are becoming a norm, and hacking people with voices is becoming a monthly chore for Islamic terrorists,” writer Rafida Bonya Ahmed told the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission House Committee on Foreign Affairs briefing in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

“The extent of impunity is so great today that the Islamic terrorists are attacking the secular bloggers, writers and even the publishers in broad daylight, in front thousands of people or even inside their own residences or offices,” said Ahmed, who suffered four head wounds and lost her thumb in the attack that claimed her husband’s life on Feb. 26.

She told those attending hearing on human rights in Bangladesh about friends and other intellectuals who lost their lives in similar attacks, including Ananta Bijoy Das, Washiqur Rahman Babu, Niladri Chottopaddhya (whose pen name was Niloy Neel), and Faisal Arefin Dipan.

“Because these killers were never brought to justice, now they are attacking foreign workers and even other Muslims from a different sect,” she said, describing recent attacks on a Shiite festival and mosque.

A local affiliate of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a shooting that killed one man at a mosque in the northern town of Bogra on Nov. 26. About a month earlier, IS claimed it had bombed a religious procession in Dhaka, which left two people dead and scores more injured.

Bangladeshi Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal has rejected any claims that IS has a presence in the country.

Ahmed did not aim all of her anger at Islamist militant – she also blamed Bangladesh’s government for its efforts to silence her and other secular writers and bloggers.

Ahmed said government leaders refused to accept the existence of Islamic terrorism in Bangladesh for political reasons.

“The Bangladeshi government needs to understand that they cannot stop these terrorists unless they openly condemn their acts and take action to bring them to justice,” she said.

Instead, the government has implemented and amended the Information and Communication Technology Act, which outlaws any publication, broadcast or websites that are fake or obscene, or any communication that hurts or may hurt a religious belief. The act makes criticism of religion on the internet punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Briefing moderator Michael De Dora, director of the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy and the organization’s representative to the United Nations, said reports that the Islamic State was gaining a foothold in Bangladesh were not being taken seriously by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and government officials.

Protests against Hasina and her Awami League party have been shut down, critical views censored and their authors arrested, De Dora said, according to a transcript of his statement before the commission.

“Prime Minister Hasina has stated several times that individuals do not have the right to hurt religious feelings, and for political purposes has blamed the attacks on secular activists on the opposition political party,” he said.

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