Our Bangladesh program started after a series of brutal murders of Bangladeshi writers and bloggers in 2015. The victims were all targeted by groups of men armed with machetes, and the murders claimed by various Islamist extremist groups as a reaction to liberal and freethinking blogs which they deemed “insulting to Islam”. Since 2016, Bangladesh has undergone a surge of violence spanning attacks targeting secular journalists, bloggers, academic elite, LGTBTQI groups, tourists and religious minorities. Moreover, the security forces in the country have engaged in indiscriminate arrests, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances. Bangladeshi media have reprinted ‘death lists’ naming individual bloggers, and Bangladeshi government officials have told bloggers not to express views that are critical of religion or they may face arrest under the country’s restrictive online communications law.
The Human Rights lobby and activists in Bangladesh are presented with persistent troubles to conduct their activities as unhindered by exacerbated harassment and monitoring by the security services and the police. Recently, there has been a new law passed which imposes stringent restrictions on the obtaining of foreign funds for NGOs that necessitate the approval of the National NGO Affairs Bureau within the Bangladeshi Prime Minister’s Office (Human Rights Watch 2016). Additionally, the state government has persistently deployed the rather ambiguous and broad Information and Communication Technology Act which targets groups that are criticizing the conduct and decisions of high government officials. Herein, those are particularly directed against journalists and bloggers. In case the latter engage in expressing any secular values or plead allegiance to sexual minority groups and support their activities, they run the risk to be attacked even in public spaces or ruthlessly hacked to death. Notwithstanding the fact that the Bangladesh authorities have condemned such recent attacks, some officials still advise on self-censorship on part of people with unconventional values, thereby imputing responsibility to the victims of attacks rather than the ones committing the crime.
Ultimately, several laws were put forward in the last few years that aim at increasing the number of restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and other fundamental human rights entitlements (Human Rights Watch 2016). Human rights groups internationally have voiced concern about the slow and ineffective process of justice in Bangladesh.