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US Considers Sheltering Bangladeshi Secular Writers at Risk

BenarNews Staff
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Bangladeshi secular activists and university students take part in a protest in Dhaka, following the murder of law student Nazimuddin Samad, April 8, 2016.

The United States may grant refuge to secular bloggers whose lives are at risk in Bangladesh, a State Department spokesman said, after another activist who had criticized religious extremism and identified himself as an atheist in online writings was murdered this week.

“[M]y understanding is that for a select number of bloggers who continue to be under imminent danger, that that is one option that’s under consideration,” Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington on Thursday.

Toner condemned law student Nazimuddin Samad's "barbaric murder," calling it “a serious issue.”

Ansar al-Islam, a Bangladeshi branch of the al-Qaeda terror network in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), has claimed responsibility for the killing, the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group said Friday, citing a statement posted by the militants online.

Samad is the sixth secular intellectual killed in a similar manner since February 2015. A postgraduate student at Dhaka’s Jagannath University (JnU), Samad was intercepted and cut down with machetes by five to six attackers as he walked in a street of the city’s Sutrapur area at around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, an eyewitness told BenarNews.

Toner did not provide details of a possible U.S. plan to grant temporary refuge to Bangladeshi secular bloggers facing imminent danger, saying it was a process undertaken by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“I don’t know … if there are individuals who are taking advantage of that.  I just don’t have clarity on it,” he said.

An official with the DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services told BenarNews that its humanitarian parole program was “an important part of the United States' humanitarian immigration efforts, and is used sparingly to bring an otherwise inadmissible individual into the U.S. for urgent humanitarian reasons.”

“Parole is temporary in nature and does not confer any immigration status on the individual, and cannot be used to circumvent normal visa-issuing processes.”

But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that due to privacy rules, the USCIS could not speak to any specific requests for humanitarian parole.  

The U.S. move came amid pressure from American activists who wanted to provide emergency and temporary sanctuary to secular writers and publishers from Bangladesh amid the killings. Since 2013, seven secular figures – writers, bloggers, activists – have been murdered in the South Asian nation.

An “atmosphere of impunity and hostility” in Bangladesh merits the granting of “humanitarian parole,” the activists told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a letter dated Dec. 21.

“We have received numerous requests from Bangladeshi bloggers, who have written to us in the hope that we can help by providing them with avenues for relocation,” the letter said.

On Friday, Bangladeshi police filed a murder case and said they were treating Samad's death as a "targeted killing," although no arrests had yet been made, Agence France-Presse reported.

Abu Hena Muneem, a senior home ministry official, dismissed claims that the government was failing to protect secularists and said the authorities were doing all they could to track down Samad's killers.

"The accusations are not correct. Our law enforcement agencies are working very hard to find the culprits and they will soon be arrested," Muneem told AFP.

Activists, however, were expressing concerns about the government's readiness to protect them, the report said.

In a protest march in the capital Dhaka, about 400 people chanted slogans including "stop the culture of impunity, save secular Bangladesh."

"It is very worrying," said Imran H. Sarker, a spokesman for Bangladesh's biggest secular activists' group, Gonojagoron Moncho.

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