NEW YORK: PEN America has condemned the brutal killing of a student in Bangladesh in what appears to be another targeted attack by Islamist militants on those who express dissident viewpoints.
The persistent failure of the Bangladeshi government and the international community to ?better protect threatened thinkers has created a climate of fear and direct threat to free thought in the country, PEN sources said.
Nazimuddin Samad, whose writings on Facebook promoted secular themes and criticized radical Islam, was attacked while walking home from an evening law school class at Jagannath University. According to the Dhaka Tribune, witnesses said that the assailants chanting “Allahu Akbar” hacked Samad with machetes in the street before shooting him. The attackers, who appeared to know Samad’s daily route, remain at large.
Samad was not known to have received explicit threats prior to the murder.
“For more than a year, Bangladesh has been ravaged by a spate of bloody attacks on bloggers and other writers who espouse secular viewpoints,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “We urge the Bangladeshi police and other authorities to do everything in their power to investigate and prosecute this vicious attack on free speech and thought, and halt this terrible pattern of murders. We also reiterate our demand for the United States and other countries that are able to provide refuge to shelter those writers who are still at grave risk before more lives are lost.
This killing is a cruel illustration of the costs of inaction.”
In December 2015, PEN America led a coalition of organizations in sending a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to consider granting humanitarian parole to Bangladeshi writers at risk. Since then, PEN America has had ongoing dialogue with the State Department concerning the importance of measures to protect free thought in Bangladesh.
At least five other writers, bloggers, and publishers have been killed in Bangladesh since February 2015; three others have survived attacks and dozens more have been publically threatened by religious extremists. Islamist groups published a “hit list” of 84 secular bloggers in late 2014, and further lists published in 2015 have also targeted journalists, academics, and members of civil society. Police and other authorities have offered little in the way of assistance or protection, leading dozens of bloggers to go into hiding or leave the country in order to stay alive.