We are freelance writers from Bangladesh. Most of us have started our writings through blogging in 2006 and 2007 when a Bengali blog, called, ‘somewhereinblog’, was first founded. Somewhereinblog has appeared as a wonderful opportunity to express and share our experiences, daily diaries, our happiness and sorrows in our own language/terms. Initially we have used the space to read blogs, while some of us were sharing personal diaries, literary works i.e. poetry, short stories, travel blogs etc. At some point we have noticed random posts on Islamic thoughts and inserts from Quran & Hadith, translated by apparently preaching articles from so called Islamic scholars abroad. These were not one off incidents, rather those were regular posts by religious and Islamist writers. In reading those articles, we wondered if religious writers or Islamic authors are able to share their religious speeches, why shouldn’t we? We believed that even if non-believers we should have the right to talk about our thoughts and reasons for unbelieving when the believers and religious authors have the right to preach through social media. Hence we started to express our thoughts and views through blogs. As atheists our blogs contained the non-traditional thoughts, the logic of being skeptical, and the story behind unbelieving. This simultaneously appeared as counter-logic to the believers. Many of us have started to argue that about some Islamic articles which were posted by the blind-believers. Both logic and counter-logic went on in the section for comments. We were soon thrilled by e-meeting and discovering so many supporters, friends, free-thinkers, atheists, non-believers, and agnostics around us. It was totally unexpected yet amazing to come across these many non-believers with us at that time. We could have hardly imagined that so many atheists and free thinkers had existed in the country as ours, from where writers like Taslima Nasrin and Daud Haider were exiled!
We started to write blogs on faithism, on the history of religions, philosophy of religions, and scientific outlook of religions. We started to ask various questions on the issue of women’s rights and the issues of justice and rights within religions. At the same time, we had begun to debunk the unscientific claims of the religious texts and religious. Our interest covers history, philosophy, science, feminism, law, culture, art-culture and, of course, humanity. We wrote several articles on these subject-matters. We have great interest in ancient Indian philosophy since we have found there are lots of atheist sects of our ancient philosophy like Sankhya, Mimangsa, Buddhism, Charbak, Jainism etc. We have started to publish short articles or inserts from prominent free thinkers, writers, like Aroj Ali Matubbar, Dr. Humayun Azad, Ahmed Sharif and more.
Later on we came to know another the web-site, called Muktomona – Freethinkers (www.mukto-mona.com) which was founded in 2001. It was a great discovery for us again when we came to know that writers of such a site are mainly people of Bangladeshi origins. Initially it was not a blog. There was no comment option on the site. We needed to send our articles via mail. We have spent time mostly to debate and argue with the Islamists in somewhereinblog though mukto-mona was like our own home-base. Through this home-base we have obtained an identity as “mukto-mona” – free thinker, someone who holds a free mind and who is open to debate and discussions about anything. There we found many other friends, among whom muktomona blogger Avijit Roy was the most influential for his new and creative writings. He had soon become a good friend, our guide and a wonderful senior fellow.
Gradually some more Bengali blogs came on the web. Sachalayatan, for instance, became most powerful among others. Also Amar blog, cadet blog, nagorik blog, ishtishon became popular and many of our atheist bloggers were scattered in different platforms of blogs. But somewhereinblog had still a special role as an open platform where both the religious and atheist bloggers used to write and where many Islamic bloggers freely took part on the discussions and debates with us. Over time somewhereinblog lost its popularity as many other blogs came into scene, and as facebook took over the place of blogs for many bloggers. The Dhormockery became another major initiative for the atheist bloggers where various satires and cartoons on religions were published.
From the beginning of our writings in blogs and facebook, we were faced with unexpected angry words and annoyance of the religious people, especially from the Islamists. Some of us have used to write in disguise under “nick name” butsome used to write with their original names. The Islamic fanatics often offered us to dare not to write in disguise which actually made us take the decision to continue under the nickname. On the other hand, bloggers with real name and identity were often asked to share their address! Sometimes Islamic extremist people used to show their doubt about the originality of the identity of us, who were writing in real name! They used to remind us the almighty’s threat after and before death. We did never bother about so-called heavenly threats, but sometimes we felt worried when it seemed that these guys were somehow willing to see the almighty’s threat to be applied upon us in this very world!
As already said, from the beginning of our writing on religion, history, philosophy, humanity and atheism, we used to receive very angry and furious responses from some fanatic religious persons. Especially our articles on Islam, Quran & Hadith and Muhammad made them almost mad. We always tried not to show any disrespect towards their belief, on the contrary we used to discuss the economical and political situation under which Muhammad had become Muhammad, the prophet. Sometimes we tried to debunk false claims about Quranic explanations of some Islamic scholars like Zakir Nayek, Ahmed Deedat etc instead of hitting Quran directly. Still these articles made some of them very angry. In the comment section of these blog posts or via facebook messages, they used to show their reaction. They scolded us out of hatred, declared our ultimate punishment after death. They wished our complete destruction.
Initially we took such reactions as normal behavior of believers. We overlooked their reactions as we thought that these were only reactions which came out of instant anger. We preferred not to bother them at all. But in 2013, the situation took a sudden turn and got rapidly worse. Below are the major incidents (chronologically) that happened in the year 2013:
1. On 14 January, 2013, Atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin was stabbed by unknown attacker, somehow he survived.
2. On 5 February, 2013 the Shahbagh Movement began.
3. on 15 February, 2013, Ahmed Razib Haider, one of the activists of Shahbagh Movement ( Thaba Baba on blog) was murdered by identifiable killers .
4. From the very moment of Rajib’s killing and soon after the Shahbag public demand for justice for Rajib, his writings especially satires on Islam, Muhammad, Quran and Hadith were systematically brought in public and made available through various Islamic pages of facebook, Islamic websites as well as the national media including the Daily Amar Desh, Daily Sangram and so on), backed by Islamic nationalist parties. Propaganda against aetheists and Rajib was being spread all over the places within the country. Extreme hatred against atheist bloggers was being successfully raised at mass level. Islamic leaders called for capital punishment for the atheist bloggers. Eventually Hefajot-E-Islam, an organization of Ulamas, Islamic knowledgeable persons, from the Qawmi madrashas, Islamic educational institutes, took on the lead to the country-wide agitation.
5. Hefajot-E-Islam declared a 13 points-demand against atheists which include below:
• Reinstate the phrase “Absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah” in the constitution as one of the fundamental principles of state policy.
• Pass a law keeping a provision of capital punishment for maligning Allah, Islam and Prophet Muhammad and smear campaigns against Muslims.
• Punish the “atheist” leaders of Shahbagh, bloggers and anti-Islamists who make “derogatory comments” about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
6. Hefajat-e-Islam declared to organize a long march towards the Motijheel area in Dhaka from Chittagong, Sylhet and Rajshahi to push for their 13-point demand on April 6, 2013.
7. 3 Bloggers Subrata Adhikari Shuvo, Russel Parvez and Mashiur Rahman Biplob were arrested on April 2 2013, under Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure on suspicion of making derogatory comments about Islam. The 4th blogger, Asif Mohiuddin was arrested on April 3 2013. In the behind of the scene, government was trying to negotiate with these Islamic groups including Hefajot-E-Islam.
8. List of atheist bloggers was published. It started sporadically after the killing of Rajib. Several Islamic groups published in different Islamic websites and also in some of print media. The lists published were also of different types (different groups listed down 26 atheist bloggers, 42 bloggers, 56 bloggers differently). On 31 March, 2013 an investigation committee of the Prime Minister’s Office held a meeting with ‘Islamist’ scholars. During the meeting with the committee at the Home Ministry, these Islamic leaders and or scholars submitted a list of 84 ‘atheist’ bloggers to the committee. Mainuddin Khandaker, Home Ministry’s Additional Secretary and also the committee chief, echoed the scholars during the meeting: “The committee is taking steps to identify for bringing those spreading propagandas to justice”. Just few days after this meeting and also few days before the long march of Hefajot-E-Islam, 4 bloggers were arrested.
9. On 31 March 2013 Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to punish online insults against Islam. She said: “You (Islamic parties) do not need to go for any movement. As a Muslim, We have the responsibility to take action”.
10. On May 5, 2013, Hefajat arranged a siege and rally at the capital city, Dhaka in the demand of their 13-points.
11. The cabinet approved the draft of the ICT (Amendment) Act-2013 on August 19 proposing to empower law enforcers to arrest any person without warrant and increase the highest punishment to 14 years from minimum 7 years. The government has later promulgated the ICT (amendment) ordinance.
Article-57: Punishment for publishing fake, obscene or defaming information in electronic form:
(1) If any person deliberately publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the website or in electronic form any material which is fake and obscene or its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it, or causes to deteriorate or creates possibility to deteriorate law and order, prejudice the image of the State or person or causes to hurt or may hurt religious belief or instigate against any person or organization, then this activity of his will be regarded as an offence.
(2) Whoever commits offence under sub-section (1) of this section he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to maximum fourteen years and minimum 7 years and with fine which may extend to Taka one crore.
After Rajib’s killing we have realised for the first time that nick name couldn’t guarantee anyone’s safety, and that the Islamic extremists had got the mechanism to identify the original identity of a disguised nick. The Ansarullah Bangla Team, an Islamic fanatic and terrorist group has declared that they were going to kill many more atheists of Bangladesh. Since then we have been trying to be more careful regarding our writings.Most of us slowed up our writings. But just before the long march of Hefajot-E-Islam on 6 April 2013, the situation went even worse. Many lists of atheist bloggers were produced and four bloggers were arrested. These months were very concerning for us and many of us have felt vulnerable within the supposedly secular-state of Bangladesh. We were desperate to find safe and unknown places to hide, mainly to hide from state-security personnel and police since the arrested bloggers were freed.
2014 was a comparatively calm year. We had started to live relatively normal life, though already many of us had become irregular in our online domain, many had removed their blogs. In the year of 2015, following the mixed reaction of Bangladeshi people about the Cahrlie Hebodo Killings, the Islamic extremists started to commit serial killing. They have been following a hit list of 84 atheist bloggers who were found vividly loud about secularism and against religious illogicality. Three radiant atheist bloggers were hacked to death within three months. First they murdered Avijit Roy, the founder of mukto-mona.com, then hacked blogger Washikur Rahman Babu to death, and recently science writer Ananta Bijoy Das. The local media has published a full list of what they called “those ‘culprit’ 84 bloggers” following the murders each time!
The situation is now heightened, as if the remainder of those atheist bloggers who are still surviving and somehow living in the country could be killed anytime. It seems that we are waiting for nothing but a direct machete-attack. Government of Bangladesh has failed to identify and punish the real criminals behind these consecutive incidents of concerted attacks on atheists. Two of the killers were caught by public on spot after the killing of Washikur Babu, but with the help of them no more extremists could be identified. Actually no activities from police administration, special branch or detective branch, ie the government authority can be seen after these incidents. Son of our Honorable Prime Minister told the reason behind this inactiveness while replying to the query of Reuters: “Our mother offered private condolences to Avijit’s father. But the political situation in Bangladesh is too volatile for her to comment publicly…. We don’t want to be seen as atheists.”
Under the circumstance, we hold no hope for our safety or for the other bloggers listed on the hit list, though we are still living in Bangladesh. Today’s Bangladesh is totally unsafe for the atheist bloggers like us, not only for those Islamic fanatics and extremists but also for the so-called secular government who totally failed to ensure the safety for the bloggers. They are actually unwilling to provide safety in true terms. Although six persons were arrested after the killing of Rajib on 15 February 2013, all of them had got the bail and later released. There is no hope. The opposition party had already allied with several Islamic parties, and they have declared support to Hefajot-E-Islam’s 13 points. Likewise, the so-called secular government became greedy to attract the Muslim vote bank of the country and for this reason they failed to stand besides the atheists. The prime minister has recently announced several times in public that being a very pious Muslim she would not tolerate anything against Muhammad and Quran.
So, atheist bloggers, especially those who are on the list and who live in the country, are in danger and under attack by both sides:
1. Firstly, they are attacked by the fanatic Islamic extremists who can kill us with machete and attack us from the back and
2. Secondly, the Government which can use ICT act 2006 (Article 57) anytime against the bloggers.
Being on the list of 84 atheist bloggers, we are under threats from Islamic extremists as well as the government. We know that anytime any Islamic extremist can hack us to death anywhere in Bangladesh. At the same time, we also know that Government can also arrest us against 57 article of ICT act 2006 for hurting religious belief whenever they want to.
Under such threats and bearing the above-mentioned two attacks in mind, one may wonder how terrible our current situation is? How our family’s can keep under current situation? Since the killing of Ananta Bijoy Das, most of us have been keeping ourselves caged in four walls. Being the main earning members of our families we have to go to office regularly. Some of us can’t even avoid evening or night duty at work. The horrific feeling that we and our family members endure under such death threats is hard to describe by words. We have to keep extra alert every time we are going outside and when returning home from office to home. As vigilantly looking around constantly, we often get scared to see any bearded-person anyone on Islamic dress. Our current situation is vulnerable and unbearable. The damage that we undergo is not only physical but also our mental health is seriously being injured. The routine of whole family has been changed for last couple of months. They are afraid of me/us. Our parents are also in panic about us. They don’t want us to go outside home, but being the single income –person we have to go to office. Even staying home fails to guarantee our safety as murder in bedroom is not uncommon in Bangladesh. Moreover police can arrest us from home anytime in the name of provocative writings.
This is all-out of attack on free thinking movement in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country though the history of secularism here is pretty old. Even in the ancient philosophy and rituals, we can find the sign of secularism here. In 1971, our independence war was based on secularism, we defeated the Islamic fundamentalists. But gradually since the liberation, Islamism has been injected through dirty politics. Major political parties have counted Muslim vote banks as their main resources. Hence we are now treated by the fruit! On contrary, this land never stops producing secular children. These children were brave enough not to pay any attention to the treats of the fundamentalists. Aroj Ali Matubbar, our first free thinker-writer and philosopher was arrested before the independence merely for his writings. Nonetheless, after the independence we were able to pay homage to him. After liberation, Ahmed Sharif, Daud Haider, Ali Azgar, Humayun Azad, Taslima Nasrin and many other prominent free thinkers and writers were threatened, but they did not stop. First attack on atheists in Independent Bangladesh came when Taslima Nasrin and Daud Haider were exiled from our country. Later the government of Bangladesh disallowed them to enter the country for ever. The second massive blow came when Dr Humayun Azad was severely attacked by the extremists for his last book about ‘the holy land’. We are the third generation who chose online medium for our writing, and so we are facing the third phase of attack which appeared as concerted. Still we do believe that even if they kill us the pen or keyboard will not stop. Meanwhile, we are desperately looking for a safe place in the world. Thus we dare to knock you and bother you today.
We would like to seek your help through this letter. If you know of any option or information about how we may go for the time being, please will you be kind to contact us? We should be grateful to hear from you. If you have any suggestion, guideline about finding a safe home, please share with us. We would like to live and protect ourselves from the religious fanatics. We would like to keep working on mitigating the deadly affect that religious radicalists continue to create in our world. We wish to defend our writing for human rights, humanism and rationalism.
Thank you for your time.
Please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. News of bloggers’ arrest
2. Link of news of list of 84 bloggers published in newspaper for the first time (April 1, 2013)
3. Link of news of list of 42 bloggers in Ansarulla Bangla Team’s hit list
4. Who is next target by Ansar Islam Bangla Team