(By KG Gopal)
- Freedom of Expression and freedom of conscience are under grave threat in Bangladesh, said Sanal Edamaruku, president of Rationalist International, in a statement released in Helsinki. The murder of Shahzahan Bachchu, publisher, writer, and rationalist activist, known for his support of secularism, is proof that Bangladesh is still a dangerous place for rationalists and free thinkers.
Edamaruku's statement continues: “I urge Bangladesh authorities to do everything possible to ensure that the freedom and safety of rationalists and secularists are guaranteed."
Shahzahan Bachchu, owner of the Bishaka Prakashani publishing house, specialising in publishing poetry, a writer and outspoken proponent of secular principles, was shot to death by unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle as he sat in a tea-shop in his home village Kakaldi in Munshiganj district on 10 June evening. He had gone to meet his friends at a pharmacy near his house before Iftar when five men arrived on two motorcycles. The attackers threw a crude bomb outside the pharmacy and created panic among the people, they then dragged Mr. Bachchu out and shot him dead, reports Dhaka Tribune. He died instantly. Bachchu had previously received threats, his wife informed.
Although no group has claimed responsibility, police officials from the counter-terrorism department are investigating the murder as a possible targeted attack by Islamist extremists.
The draconian Information and Communication Technology Act in Bangladesh has served only to legitimise these assaults by criminalising the very speech for which these writers face persecution from extremists. Though the government has increased efforts to curb fundamentalist violence, it has done so while expanding criminal prosecution of blasphemous speech.
Religious extremists in Bangladesh have killed more than a dozen secular, atheistic, or non-Muslim writers, bloggers, and activists; in most cases, the government has been slow to respond or even condemn the attacks.