The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom implored Secretary of State John Kerry late last month to admit to the United States some Bangladeshi bloggers at high risk of assassination by al-Qaeda groups.
That follows a plea just before Christmas from a coalition of human rights groups warning that dozens of Bangladeshi writers — deemed blasphemers by Islamists for their secular works — were in “urgent danger” and in need of protection.
But today at the State Department, the Obama administration wouldn’t confirm if it had any response to the requests in which the urgency of the matter was clearly spelled out.
USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George wrote to Kerry on Jan. 25, asking “that our government provide humanitarian parole for a limited number of Bangladeshi writers at imminent risk of assassination by extremist groups.”
Last year, one American, Avijit Roy of Atlanta, and four Bangladeshis, Washiqur Rahman Babu, Ananta Bijoy Das, Niloy Chatterjee, and Faisal Arefin Dipan, were viciously murdered by assassins aligned with al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.
George noted that they “were assassinated because of their writings, including expressing their secular beliefs that amounted to blasphemy in the eyes of the religious extremists who killed them.”
“Additionally, numerous other individuals have been placed on ‘hit-lists,’ which are widely available on the Internet. The five murders, along with the hit lists, underscore that several individuals remain in imminent danger,” he wrote.
“USCIRF respectfully urges you to use your good offices to help secure humanitarian parole for a select number of bloggers who remain in imminent danger in Bangladesh.”
The December letter to Kerry from PEN American Center, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and others noted that “the government of Bangladesh has not provided adequate protection to those at risk and, in some cases, has promoted the idea that these bloggers should self-censor in order to deter attacks against them—or that they should leave the country.”
“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 coalition wrote.
All of the writers slain in 2015 had their names previously published on hit lists. Due to “the extremely dangerous nature of their situation” of those remaining on hit lists, Kerry was asked to recommend that the Department of Homeland Security grant “humanitarian parole that will prevent their deaths.”
“Parole determinations would be made on a case-by-case basis, following an individual assessment. Should parole be secured, we stand ready to mobilize our networks to assist these writers once they arrive in the United States,” the press freedom groups assured.
When asked about today about the most recent request from the USCIRF, State Department press secretary John Kirby told reporters he was “not familiar with these particular cases or that correspondence.”
“But look, more broadly, we’ve talked many times from the podium about freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” Kirby said. “…Obviously, we don’t want to see any journalist imprisoned, harassed or otherwise prevented from doing their job, which is to cover the decisions of leaders around the world and to explain the complexity of current events to audiences all around the world.”
Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh, the local wing of AQIS, has a pinned tweet at the top of their Twitter page with a timeline graphic of blogger assassinations. It lists dead, wounded, and “Waiting on their fate: ?”
In February 2015, Bangladeshi-American secularist blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death on a Dhaka street. “The target was an American citizen.. 2 in 1. #America recently martyred 2 of our brothers in #Khurasan & #Shaam. #Revenge+#Punishment,” Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh tweeted afterward.
Roy was a dual U.S.-Bangladesh citizen who lived in Georgia and was in Bangladesh for a month. His wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonna, was with him at the time of the attack and was severely wounded, with one of her fingers severed by the pair of machete-wielding attackers.
His blog in the 90 percent Muslim country, mukto-mona.com, translates to “free thinking” and featured atheist, humanist and nationalist writers. He was also an author whose books included The Philosophy of Disbelief and The Virus of Faith — further stoking outrage of Islamists.
One of the other victims, Ananta Bijoy Das, contributed to mukto-mona.com. A science writer whose numerous books included one on evolution, Das was hacked to death by four men wielding machetes and cleavers in May as he went to work in the city of Sylhet.
Washiqur Rahman Babu posted a Charlie Hebdo Muhammad cartoon and used the hashtag #IamAvijit. He was hacked to death at the end of March.
Niloy Chatterjee, who blogged under the name Niloy Neel, had been getting threats from AQIS and went to the cops — trying several police stations but not finding anyone to help. “Officers at one of the stations said the place was not under their jurisdiction,” he wrote of the odd brush-offs. At one stop he was told to just leave the country.
In August, Neel was hacked to death in his home in broad daylight by several men wielding machetes. His wife was home at the time.
Faisal Arefin Dipan, who was Avijit Roy’s publisher, was slaughtered in his Dhaka office in October. AQIS said in a statement afterward that he “frequently published books in which the honor of the prophet was violated,” thus was “worse than the writers of such books.”
“Your nominal ‘freedom of speech’ is only tamed when it comes to spreading vile and waging war on Allah and His Messenger and defaming the Islamic religion,” the terror group added. “…The mujahideen will pay you back with appropriate response to your crimes.”