NEW YORK: On World Press Freedom Day, PEN America leads a group of 16 human rights organizations calling for a Commission of Inquiry by the United Nations Human Rights Council into the murders of at least nine writers, bloggers, publishers, academics, and activists in Bangladesh since February 2015. Four of these murders took place in the last month alone. Dozens of others have been attacked or threatened for the expression of their views.
In December 2015, PEN America led a coalition of organizations in sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to consider granting humanitarian parole to Bangladeshi writers most at risk. Since then, PEN America has had ongoing dialogue with the U.S. State Department concerning the importance of measures to protect free thought in Bangladesh. But as the spate of deadly attacks by Islamic hardliners against secular intellectuals there has escalated with near impunity, rights groups are seeking new avenues to accelerate international pressure and assistance to put an end to the violence.
PEN America pitched to:
• Collect evidence that will enable future prosecutions for these crimes,
• Send a message to perpetrators that the international community is engaged and will not tolerate a climate of impunity for these brutal murders,
• Elucidate the forces that have fueled these killings and stymied capture and prosecution of their perpetrators,
• Recommend measures to end the violence and ensure protection for threatened individuals.
The Constitution of Bangladesh, in Articles 39 and 41, guarantees all citizens the rights to freedom of conscience and speech, and religion, respectively. Additionally, Bangladesh is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which assures every individual the right to freedom of religion, belief, and expression in Articles 18 and 19. Instigating and authorizing a Commission of Inquiry into these killings is an essential step to restore these rights in Bangladesh, the PEN said.
Among the other signees were American Association of Publishers’ International Freedom to Publish Committee; Canadian Journalists for Free Expression; Center for Inquiry; City of Asylum Pittsburgh, ICORN; Committee to Protect Journalists; English PEN; European Humanist Federation; Freedom House; Freemuse; Hague Peace Projects; Human Rights First; Index on Censorship; International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU); International Media Support (IMS); PEN Bangladesh.
PEN American Center, founded in 1922 and based in New York City, works to advance literature, to defend free expression, and to foster international literary fellowship. The Center has a membership of 3,300 writers, editors, and translators.