Salute Avijit and Bonya

By: Shucheesmita Simonti.

It was perhaps the 27th or 28th of February when I first saw the news. It was extremely terrifying to hear about an American-Bangladeshi couple who had been brutally attacked at the Ekushey Book Fair by Radical Islamists. The husband, Avijit Roy, did not survive the attack. His wife, Bonya Ahmed, was in a critical condition. Their crime was simply that they were critical thinkers: they were atheists who advocated for freedom of expression and promoted scientific thinking. Avijit Roy was a well-known writer, blogger, and activist who founded Mukto-mona, an online platform for freethinkers. Bonya Ahmed is a humanist activist, blogger and author who continues to work towards their shared goals.

Avijit Roy and Rafida Bonya (courtesy: photos collected)

Thinking back to 2015, I recall many expressed their outrage on social media over this incident, people gathered to mourn. But it was not enough, the outrage was not as widespread as it should have been. In Bangladesh, many are afraid to express their opinions freely, especially on social media. After all, expressing one’s opinion has turned out to be one of the riskiest acts in Bangladesh, in fact it can cost you your life. And when it comes to issues such as atheism and LGTBQ rights, many are even afraid to express solidarity even if they empathize.

I will not propose any theories here or discuss legal conventions, but just put forward a very basic argument. Nobody deserves to lose their lives for being atheists, or otherwise. This is our basic human right- the right to live!

But it seems when it comes to the right to live, bloggers/minorities/secularists/atheists are at a high risk of losing their lives. I felt the year 2015 was one of the most terrifying ones I’ve lived through, as there were several bloggers and publishers who were attacked in 2015. The attacks kept happening- one after another bloggers were targeted and killed.

Many other bloggers were threatened and feared for their lives and fled abroad- perhaps never to return to the country that was once their own. Some of them left alone, and some managed to take their spouse and/or children. They left in a hurry and continue to struggle. It is not easy when you are forced to leave your country because your choices deprive you of your right to exist in the country that you were born in, grew up in, lived in for a long time if not your whole life!

If you don’t leave, you cannot live.
With regard to Avijit Roy, I can only say that the attackers may have succeeded in killing him, but the light of critical thinking that he tried to ignite still lives on. He may have lost his life, but his work will continue to inspire youths who want to think critically.

“Please understand our world in its rich and messy complexity; hold your politicians responsible; inform yourself, question, and deepen your understanding; and support the journalists and the people who are putting their lives on the line by helping us to make sense of this complex world—it matters. Avijit Roy was silenced, but I have a voice. Why me—Why not me—Why not you?”- Bonya Ahmed’s TedX Talk.
I would also like to express my thoughts on Bonya Ahmed, who continues to work tirelessly to achieve their shared dreams.

Rafida Bonya Ahmed giving a TEDx talk.

I listened to her TedX talk, and I have been fortunate enough to meet her in person. She is extremely brave and inspiring. The courage and motivation that she exhibits in continuing to work for causes she is passionate about, is an inspiration for not only other Bangladeshis, but activists who have been punished by the state, or attacked by the opposition, or forced to flee their homeland for expressing their thoughts. She is a living example many of us can draw strength from.

Salute Avijit and Bonya.

 

 

 


*The opinions expressed here are solely that of the writer.

Get in touch with the writer!  | E-mail : s.simonti@thehaguepeace.org

Sudan: In response to nation-wide protests, Omar al-Bashir declares a state of emergency and dissolves the government

On the 22nd of February 2019 Sudan’s president – Omar al-Bashir, dissolved the government and declared a state of emergency for one year. He addressed the nation on television by saying “I announce imposing a state of emergency across the country for one year and dissolving the government at the federal level and at the provincial levels.” Essentially, he warned his people of potential chaos dramatically similar to the one of the Arab Spring protests leading to massive civil wars in states like Yemen, Syria and Libya. Moreover, he invited the parliament to postpone the scheduled constitutional amendments that would have permitted him to run for yet another mandate next year. Omar al-Bashir is a former army officer and an Islamist who managed to seize power in 1989 through a coup d’etat. Ever since, he has consistently refused to step down (Deutsche Welle “Sudan’s Bashir”).

Recently, al-Bashir has been presented with the most sustained challenge to his long-standing  rule – a multitude of widespread protests. Anti-government rebels have raged in the capital of Sudan – Khartoum, as well as in other towns all across the country in an effort to push the president to withdraw from his post, after holding a firm grip of power for thirty consecutive years. Initially, the uprisings started as an opposition to the increased prices but have since transformed into the greatest challenge to al-Bashir’s rule. The protests erupted in December 2018 and took the lives of nearly 60 people in violent clashes of civilians with security and forces. However, the government claims the death toll is lower, placing the number at 32. In an effort to crack down on the uprisings, the National Intelligence and Security Service detained hundreds of rebels and activists, arrested journalists and oppositional leaders. Nevertheless, the Sudanese Professionals Association, who is leading the uprisings, replied to the president’s announcement of state of emergency by pushing him to step down immediately: “We are calling on our people to continue with demonstrations until the main aim of this uprising, which is the stepping down of the regime chief, is achieved” (Deutsche Welle “Sudan’s Bashir”).

As a matter of fact, in October 2007 the US removed a long-standing trade embargo on Sudan that lasted for twenty years. This move was expected to ameliorate Sudan’s otherwise desperate economic situation, which worsened significantly upon the gaining of independence of South Sudan. The latter took place in 2011 as a result of a decades-long civil war. It led to the loss of one third of Sudan’s overall oil wealth. This forced the ruling elite of Sudan to seek support from gas-rich Turkey and Qatar (Deutsche Welle “Wave of Protests”). The split between north and south inevitably brought about major economic repercussions for Sudan as a whole, where the economic system collapsed ever since. Chronic shortages of fuel and other inelastic basic goods were a commonplace with steadily rising prices for bread (Deutsche Welle “Anger over Dictatorship”).

In that regard, the primary reason for the emergence of the protest movements was the threefold raise of bread prices. Starting as a context-specific issue of discontent, these uprisings developed into a widespread expression of a broader dissatisfaction of the general population with the rapidly deteriorating economic conditions in the country and ,crucially, al-Bashir’s thirty-year rule. On his part, the president labeled the protesters “infiltrators” for presenting an immense and unprecedented challenge to his autocratic rule. Therefore, security and government forces forcefully and violently cracked down on the demonstrations by deploying tear gas, live ammunitions and stun grenades in an effort to bring the movement to an end (Deutsche Welle “Wave of Protests”).

Notably, the protesters have been calling for peace, justice and freedom, and essentially an end to the decades-old military dictatorship bringing about human rights abuses, killings and economic grievances. However, even though the demonstrations in Sudan have been deemed to resemble the Arab Spring movements, they are found to share little similarities. For the most part, the Sudanese people are not partaking in an orchestrated demonstration but rather move spontaneously and in their own way. They have used the Arab Spring chant of “The people want to bring down the regime” but, arguably, there have been few points of comparison to be reasonably made between the Arab revolution and the Sudanese uprising (Deutsche Welle “Anger over Dictatorship”).

References:

Deutsche Welle. Anger over Dictatorship, Not Bread, Fueling Sudan Uprising | DW | 29.12.2018. www.dw.com. Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/anger-over-dictatorship-not-bread-fueling-sudan-uprising/a-46894036. (Accessed February 26, 2019).

Deutsche Welle. Sudan’s Bashir Declares State of Emergency, Dissolves Government as Protests Mount | DW | 22.02.2019. www.dw.com. Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/sudans-bashir-declares-state-of-emergency-dissolves-government-as-protests-mount/a-47643590. (Accessed February 25, 2019).

Deutsche Welle. Wave of Protests Rock Sudan, at Least One Dead | DW | 24.01.2019. www.dw.com. Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/wave-of-protests-rock-sudan-at-least-one-dead/a-47224745. (Accessed February 26, 2019).

The 2018 General Elections in the DRC – What next?

The 2018 general elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, held on 30th of December, were set out to determine a successor of the long-standing president – Mr. Kabila (Wembi 2017). As a matter of fact, power transfer has never undergone a peaceful process in Congo. In this regard, Mr. Kabila, who ruled as of 2001, attempted with all his might to obstruct the democratic voting processes in the country. The 2011 election which he purportedly won in a legitimate manner, were widely unpopular and considered as mockery and corruption. His last term in office was expected to come to a final end in 2016. However, even when it expired, Kabila did not leave his riling position. Instead, he decided to shift public attention to the chaos in the country and cite it as the primary reason for the government’s inability to organize elections. Thereafter, he consolidated his grip of power for two more consecutive years and ruled against postulations in the Congolese national constitution, while ruthlessly murdering and slamming down pro-democratic movements and demonstrations (The Economist 2019).

In the context of the 2018 general elections in the DRC, Félix Tshisekedi (Union for Democracy and Social Progress) was found out to win the votes on the 10th of January with an overwhelming turnout of 38,6% of the total vote, surpassing his oppositional candidates Martin Fayulu and Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. Importantly, Mr. Fayulu, who was second in the voting turnout, asserted that the vote was set up hastily and was absolutely not representative of the popular political affiliation. He then moved to challenge the outcome of the elections in the Constitutional Court of the DRC. The state’s influential Roman Catholic Church took his side claiming that the official voting turnout was not compliant with the results of its own observations. In this regard, the Church had deployed nearly 40,000 election monitors which, as stated, “place Fayulu as the winner” (Burke 2019). Thereafter, the Constitutional Court came up with a decision on the 19th of January declaring that Fayulu’s challenge to the outcome will not be taken into consideration and shall thereby be deemed invalid. As a result, the victory of Mr. Tshisekedi was upheld and conceived of as indisputable and final.

In relation to the other oppositional leader – Mr. Shadary, prior to the vote, opinion polls revealed an evident popularity of the opposition candidates against Mr. Shadary himself, who was backed by the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy. He was seen to offer nothing but a continuation of the present grievances facing the country – widespread poverty, rebel cruelties such as rapes and robbery which go unpunished due to ubiquitous corruption and negligence of the officials and government. Nevertheless, Mr. Shadary possessed indisputably advantages as measured against the backdrop of his opposition. That is to say, he instilled fear and terror in voters by commanding police to threaten people with physical violence unless they casted their vote in his favour. What is more, police blocked oppositional campaigns’ marches in the capital and installed presence of soldiers in the Eastern regions, wherein the latter would forcefully “convince” voters to vote for Shadary: “They were telling people that if they did not choose him, they would be stopped and beaten” (The Economist 2019).

Despite the concerted efforts on part of Fayulu and Shadary with their trusted appointees, Félix Tshisekedi was appointed as the 5th President of the DRC on the 24th of January 2019, marking the first, purportedly peaceful transition of power in the state since it gained its independence in 1960 from its former colonizer – Belgium (Burke 2019).

 

References:

Burke, Jason. “Congo Election Runner-up Rejects Tshisekedi Victory as ‘Electoral Coup’.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 10 Jan. 2019, www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/10/congo-election-felix-tshisekedi-declared- winner-in-contentious-result.

“Congo’s Flawed Vote.” The Economist, 5 Jan. 2019, pp. 26–27.

Wembi, Steve. “Uncertainty as DRC Sets Election Date to Replace Kabila.” GCC News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 9 Nov. 2017, www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/uncertainty- drc-sets-election-date-replace-kabila-171109074747003.html.