American activists are urging the U.S. government to allow secular writers and publishers from Bangladesh to move temporarily to the United States on an emergency basis, after suspected Islamists hacked five of their colleagues to death this year.
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,” said the letter.
It was signed by eight people including Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams and Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN American Center, a writers’ organization that promotes freedom of expression.
“As non-governmental organizations, we do not provide legal advice or representation, and cannot secure visas for these individuals. Due to these constraints, we are writing to you to highlight the extremely dangerous nature of their situation and to ask for humanitarian parole that will prevent their deaths,” the letter went on to say.
Humanitarian parole is “an extraordinary measure sparingly used to bring an otherwise inadmissible alien into the United States for a temporary period of time due to a compelling emergency,” according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In Bangladesh, four writers and one publisher have been murdered by machete-wielding assailants since February 2015. In addition, hit lists naming intellectuals are regularly circulated by militant groups via email, text messages and Facebook.
The government of Bangladesh has not provided adequate protection to those at risk, but has suggested that they censor themselves or leave the country, the letter writers argued.
“In what appears to be a concession to appease Islamist groups, Bangladeshi officials have also arrested secular bloggers on charges of insulting religious sentiments in the past,” the letter said.
“Despite the arrests of several alleged perpetrators, the violent extremists who have targeted religious groups, foreigners, and these secular bloggers remain at large, leading to an atmosphere of impunity and contributing to a hostile environment in which many secular bloggers and publishers are self-censoring and living in hiding in fear for their lives.”
Four people were injured in the attacks on bloggers this year, including Rafida Bonya Ahmed, the widow of secular blogger Avijit Roy, a dual U.S.-Bangladesh citizen who was killed on a crowded street as the couple left a book fair at Dhaka University on Feb. 26.
"These bloody days are becoming a norm, and hacking people with voices is becoming a monthly chore for Islamic terrorists,” she told the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission House Committee on Foreign Affairs briefing in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.
“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 [of] 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 took her husband’s life.
In addition to Roy, bloggers Washiqur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Das, and Niladri Chottopaddhya were hacked to death this year.
Faisal Arefin Dipan, who published Roy’s work, was killed on Oct. 31. The same day, publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul and bloggers Ranadipam Basu and Tareq Rahim were critically hurt in an attack at a publishing house in Dhaka.
In February 2013, assailants attacked and killed secular activist and blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider.
Home-grown militant groups such as Ansarullah Bangla Team and individuals affiliating themselves with al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent claimed responsibility for the attacks.