SUMMARY OF DISCUSSION: BANGLADESH ALTERNATIVE BOOK FAIR IN THE HAGUE

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On February 21st The Hague Peace Projects in collaboration with Mukta-Mona, a free mind platform, organized a Bangladesh alternative book fair in Humanity House The Hague. The “Bangladesh Solidarity Book Fair” in The Hague was a reflection of the Ekushey National Book Fair held annually at Dhaka University, a major date on the intellectual calendar of Bangladesh. It was at Ekushey that the first of last year’s targeted murders of secular writers took place, with the assassination of author Avijit Roy as he left the fair on 26 February 2015.

To remember the victims and to exchange ideas on how to approach the suffocation of freedom of speech in Bangladesh a mixture of fled Bangladeshi bloggers and organizations gathered in The Hague. After the book presentation was launched, a documentary impressed the audience about the hostile and insecure environment Bangladeshi freethinkers have to live in. The documentary showed: fundamentalist Muslims who evoke citizens ‘to smash [atheists] into pieces’; Premier Sheikh Hasina who doubled the penalty for breaching the blasphemy law and religious insult up to fourteen year of custody; The government that lacks investigation and prosecution for crimes against atheist. Where does the increasing influence from extremism come from?

The first panel, existing of bloggers and writers from Mukto-Mona, explained the threat. When Pakistan became independent from India, secularism grew in the region along with a free culture. However, when Bangladesh signed their declaration of independence in 1971 from Pakistan, secularism reduced due to a change of its constitution. Nonetheless, the main influence from extremism comes from Saudi Arabia. The country is funding ‘madrassas’, koranic schools in Bangladesh from a distance. The underprivileged Bangladeshi children in madrassas benefit from healthcare, food and education, but cannot avoid their fundamentalist doctrine which leads to serious problems.
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The second panel consisted of Avijit Roy’s wife Bonya Ahmed and speakers from Amnesty International, Humanistisch Verbond and The Hague Peace Projects. Bonya Ahmed started off the debate explaining that Avijit Roy’s death not only caused grief but also created a well-connected community of Bangladeshi bloggers who seek for constitutional change in Bangladesh. The panel agreed that need for change is necessary from the core of Bangladesh citizens itself, but also calls on other states and international organizations to get involved in short- and long-term solutions. The representative from Amnesty International emphasized their cooperation with the United Nations, and Humanistisch Verbond elaborated on their cooperation with the Dutch government in order to put pressure on Bangladesh’s current regime. What will eventually happen to Bangladesh is unsure, but we know one thing: the bloggers and writers will continue their work, even outside their country.

Bonya Ahmed highlighted the latter by introducing her new project: the establishment of an online encyclopedia to publish knowledge about science, philosophy, art, religion, literature and many more. She mentioned that bloggers and writers are not only atheist, they are much more than that. They have wide interests and different ideas, she wants to share that with the locals in Bangladesh. With this initiative she invites Bangladeshi to learn, to change perspective and to contribute to change in Bangladesh.

Summary of discussion: The importance of Ugandan elections for Peace in the GLR

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On February 13th The Hague Peace Projects in collaboration with the Ugandan Diaspora, organized a debate on the Ugandan general elections on February 18th 2016. The debate emphasized the effect of the elections in Uganda and its overall role on the peace-building process in the Great Lakes region. Different diaspora from the Great Lakes region, as well as professionals ,participated in the debate to share opinions on the past electoral activities in Uganda and their relation to the upcoming elections. Although the opinions were dived, every participant in the debate emphasized the aim of peaceful elections in Uganda.

The four speakers stressed that Uganda has not faced a peaceful transition of power since Uganda’s independency was established in the twentieth century. Moses Atocon Atyekwo, a blogger from Power 10, explained that the general elections in Uganda usually occur along with demonstrations and protests under the risk of state violence varying from rubber bullets to tear gas. Because the elections have always been plagued by force and in breach with the law, the Ugandan community usually demonstrates for free and fair elections.

Josh Maiyo, a PHD candidate at VU specialized in political economy of development highlighted the key features of the 2016 election in Uganda. He explained: the incumbent president Museveni is facing serious competition from political opponents for the first time in history. According to him, Museveni’s argument to maintain his presidency is related to the Uganda-Tanzania War. Since the current voting generation didn’t witnessed this combat up-close he expects that the new generation is less receptive of this argument. Kenneth Muyingo, representative of the Ugandan Community Netherlands, expressed the need for Museveni to be replaced. He considered Museveni to be a dangerous key player in the Great Lakes region and thus unable to contribute to the aim of peace-building in the region.

On the other hand, Arne Doornebal a former Africa correspondent stressed the difficulties of transition of powers in Uganda. Arne mentioned the extensive role of Museveni in Uganda, inter alia in the media and in the military. This vision was also shared by other participants in the debate: “Uganda has not an army, the army has Uganda.” According to the some of the attendees, originating from different neighboring countries of Uganda, a positive effect of the army on peace in the region is highly doubtful. For example, the International Court of Justice deemed Uganda to compensate $10 billion the plundering of natural recourses in DR Congo between 1998 and 2003. In conclusion it can be said that the upcoming elections in Uganda are greatly important for the country but also for Uganda’s mediating role in the Great Lakes region.

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Februari 21: Bangladesh Alternative Book Fair in The Hague

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Public protest in Dhaka

Bangladesh: where writing and blogging puts your life in danger On February 21, 2016, The Hague Peace Projects and Mukto-Mona are organizing the “Bangladesh Alternative Book Fair” in Humanity House, The Hague. An event about the declining space for freedom of speech in Bangladesh. There will be a short documentary, book-presentations, public debate, discussions and exchange of views on the current political situation, the suffocation of the freedom of speech and the rise of extremism in the country. One year ago, on February 26, 2015 Avijit Roy, a US based Bangladeshi writer, blogger and founder of Mukto-Mona, was hacked to death by extremists. He was in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh to attend the Ekushey Book Fair, launching his latest book. Bangladeshi writers and bloggers had already been operating in a hostile and insecure environment since the killing of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider in February 2013. But within a timespan of only ten months also Washiqur Rahman Babu, Ananta Bijoy Dash, Niloy Chatterjee and Faisal Arefin Dipon were brutally murdered. They all were targeted by extremists for being critical to religion.

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Sketch made after the murder on Ananta Bijoy Dash, the third killing in 2015. Niloy Chatterjee was murdered in August and Faisal Arefin Dipon murdered in November 2015.

The Ekushey Book Fair is THE most important yearly event for every Bangladeshi writer. It takes place in the month of February, in celebration of International Mother Language Day the 21st of February. Also this year, the Ekushey Book Fair is taking place. But with many writers and books being absent, it reflects the silencing of independent and critical voices in Bangladesh. Writers and bloggers who could, have left the country. Those who couldn’t, chose to be silent. In protest and solidarity with Bangladeshi writers facing persecution, the Hague Peace Projects and Mukto-Mona organize a ‘Bangladesh Alternative Book Fair’. On Sunday the 21st of February Bangladeshi writers and bloggers now forced to live abroad will come together in the Humanity House in The Hague, Netherlands. There will be books, writers and freedom of speech.

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People paying tribute to Avijit Roy.

Place: Humanity House, Prinsegracht 8, The Hague Date/Time: Sunday February 21, 14:00h-19:30:h Programme: 14:00 h. Bangladesh Alternative Book Fair 16:00 h. Screening of the documentary Razor’s Edge 16:30 h. Discussion with Bloggers 17:40 h. Break 18:00 h. Discussion with Bloggers and Experts 18:45 h. Drinks and Book Fair Admission is free. Registration is required via http://www.humanityhouse.org/en/event/exiled-writers-bloggers-from-bangladesh/ In cooperation with: Logo-Muktomona-100x61.pngiheu-logo-2013.jpg

Sponsor:

The American Book Center

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