Rafida Bonya Ahmed
By Mizan Rahman
Rafida Bonya Ahmed, the widow of slain Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy, has urged the international community to come forward to help save freedom of expression in Bangladesh.
“These brave Bangladeshi journalists, writers, bloggers, and publishers love their country and want to make a difference in their own homeland,” she said in a briefing on the shrinking space for civil society titled ‘Human Rights in Bangladesh’ held at Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, USA on Tuesday.
“They are out, along with the citizens of Bangladesh, in the street to protest these murders, the impunity, and the inaction of the Bangladeshi government,” Bonya said, adding that they have been continuing their work knowing the constant threats, according to her statement made at the briefing and dispatched to the media in Bangladesh yesterday.
Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the US Congress, which promotes, defend and advocate internationally recognised human rights norms in a nonpartisan manner, both within and outside of Congress, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments,
arranged the briefing.
Apart from Bonya, a writer and activist, Sahar Chaudhry, senior policy analyst, US Commission for International Religious Freedom; Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director, Free Expression Programmes; PEN American Center; Bharath Gopalaswamy, director, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council, took part in the briefing.
Congressman James P McGovern, co-chair of the rights group, delivered the opening remark at the briefing.
Bonya said the Bangladesh government stayed completely quiet after the first three murders of the secular or atheist bloggers. “And then, when they were forced to say something after the fourth murder, they instead told us to be careful about what we write.”
About war criminals, she said the war criminals who have been tried in Bangladesh should not be considered as the “opposition leaders”.
“They are war criminals with proven and well-documented records of mass murders and tortures during our liberation war in 1971. We strongly believe that Bangladesh has come to this stage partly because these religious fanatics and the war criminals were allowed to be rehabilitated in Bangladesh decades after the new nation state was formed,” Bonya said.
The Bangladesh 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.
“They cannot claim to be a secular government or a secular political party unless they protect freedom of expression for every citizen. We’re seeing the classic. You won’t be able to protect the religious rights of your citizens in a secular country unless you protect the freedom of expression regardless of religion or no religion.”
Congressman McGovern said in the power struggle between the major political parties - the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party - civil society often gets caught in the crossfire.
He said concerns have been raised by the government’s response to protests and dissent.
“There have been reports of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. With the news that transnational terror networks, including Al Qaeda and IS, are present in Bangladesh, the challenges to stability and democracy are likely to intensify,” said the Congressman.
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