Freedom Book Fair: Voices of Dissent in Bangladesh

fb-event-cover-photo-bangladesh-voices-of-dissentThe discussion “Voices of Dissent; Persecuted Non-Religiosity and Threatened Religious Diversity in Bangladesh” is part of The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017. This event is organised by The Hague Peace Projects, Mukto-Mona and Humanistisch Verbond. It will take place at Sunday 26 February from 3 PM to 5:30 PM at Nutshuis, Riviervismarkt 5 Den Haag.

Bangladesh is a secular Muslim country. However, citizens who have questioned religion, have recurrently been targeted by Islamic extremists. For bloggers, intellectuals and writers who have openly critiqued religious conservatism in their writings, the consequences were severe. Since 2013, there have been deaths of dozens of bloggers and activists, to name a few, Rajshahi University professor AKM Shafiul Islam, literary publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan, and bloggers Avijit Roy, Oyasiqur Rahman Bubu, Ananta Bijoy Das and Niloy Neel. The death of these bloggers and activists not only caused grief but also created a well-connected community of Bangladeshi bloggers who seek for constitutional change in Bangladesh. The need for change is necessary from the core of Bangladesh citizens, democracy and for the safety of those who are putting their lives on the line for freedom of expression.

This event is a commemoration in solidarity with the Bangladeshi people who died because of their critical stance.

Bob Churchill – IHEU (moderator)
Caroline Suransky- Humanistisch Verbond
Olof Blomqvist – Amnesty International

Documentary: Razor’s Edge made by Mukto-Mona.

You are welcome to join us. Entrance is free, but registration required.

See more about The Hague Freedom Book Fair

Challenges of LGBT-Activism in Religious Societies

fb-event-cover-photo-lgbtThe discussion “Challenges of LGBT-Activism in Religious Societies” is part of The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017. This event is organised is cooperation with The Hague Peace Projects and Maruf.
Where: Nutshuis, Riviervismarkt 5, Den Haag
When: Satyrday 26 February
What time: 7PM – 9PM
You are very welcome to join the discussion! Entrance is free but registration is required.
The reason to organize this panel discussion was the recent killings of LGT activist in Bangladesh by Al-Qaeda as well as the arrest of members of the organization ‘Boys of Bangladesh’ for organizing a Rainbow Rally. These event however, are not isolated incidents. In many religious societies LGTBI people are facing intolerance and a shrinking civic space.

In many Muslim countries, The LGBT-rights movement is being painted as an anti-Islamic western conspiracy to destroy Islamic moral values by the Islamic extremists; as if homo-sexuality never existed in the Muslim world. Also in traditional christian societies, homosexuals and transgenders are facing enormous challenges and existential crisis.

In this event we want to discuss the current challenges of rising intolerance all over the world and its effect on the LGBTI movements. We want to counter the essentialization of Islam and Muslim culture as homophobic so that the Muslim LGBTI do not become more estranged from their own culture. What spaces and loopholes do exist to use existing social tolerance in the world to promote LGBT rights?

Speakers are from Bangladesh and Uganda. Names will be announced soon!

The Hague Freedom Book Fair

From February 24 to February 27, We are going to host ‘The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017’ at the Nutshuis, The Hague; with participation from publishers from different parts of the world. There will also be panel discussions on freedom of expression in Bangladesh, freedom of expression in regarding LGBT movements in the muslim world, and also on overall situation of freedom of expression around the world.

The Hague Peace Projects, Mukto-Mona and other international organizations hosted a book fair in February 2016 at Humanity House in The Hague titled ‘Bangladesh Alternative Book Fair’ in memory of Avijit Roy and other Bangladeshi writers and free thinkers who got killed in 2015 and in solidarity with the persecuted and exiled Bangladeshi writers who were unable to be present in the Ekushey Book Fair in Bangladesh. “The Hague Freedom Book Fair” is a continuation of that event.

Date Events Time
24/02/2017 Discussion: Freedom of speech versus Hate Speech; Where the world is heading to. 7-9 pm
Somalian Poetry Night. 9-11 pm
25/02/2017 Discussion: Freedom of Exrpession in Turkey; Challenges for dialogue and peace.  

2-5 pm

Discussion: LGBT Freedom in the Muslim Community; obstacles and possibilities.Documentary:  LGBT freedom in Indonesia. 7-9 Pm
26/02/1017 Discussion: Voice of dissents; persecuted  non-religiosity and threatened religious diversity in Bangladesh.

Documentary: Razors Age

Candle Lighting: In memory of Avijit Roy and other slain Bangladeshi writers/publishers/editors.

3-5.30 Pm
27/02/2017 Discussion on Freedom of expression, Dialogue and conflict resolution in Bangladesh  

6.30-8.30 pm

Supporting Sundarbans Solidarity in Netherlands

The world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans in Bangladesh, is under threat of destruction and pollution. Men’s ever growing hunger for energy and industry has led the Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company (BIFPC) to construct a massive coal power plant, just 14 kilometers from this UNESCO world heritage site – home to the last populations of the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger. One can only imagine the risk and potential devastation such a fossil fuel consuming plant will have. Further, apart from a devastating impact on nature, the forest also is a natural defense for the fragile Bengal delta against cyclones and tsunamis.

We cannot remain silent in the face of such irresponsible and barbaric behavior. On the 19th of November also HPP members voiced their discontent; despite rain and cold they showed their indignation and protest during the Sundarbans Solidarity Cycle from Haarlem to Amsterdam. And again, on the 7th of January HPP members participated in the protest in front of the Peace Palace in The Hague, to put this injustice under the attention of the International Court of Justice.

This is not the end of our protest. In the face of global warming and the unequal burden of climate change that is placed on Bangladesh, it is time to demonstrate our united strength to coal conglomerates and corrupted governments. The threat against the Sundarbans is both very real and also a symbol – this is exactly when the world should leave fossil fuels and focus on renewable energy.

Please follow us and keep up to date on opportunities for you to support our voice against the Bangladeshi government’s choice for outdated and polluting energy forms, and in support of protecting the Sundarbans.

Bangladesh blocks Istishon blog, continues suppressing freedom of speech

A popular Bangla community blog named Istishon was blocked by the BTRC (Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission) for users in Bangladesh; this is yet another attack on freedom of speech in the country. Founder and Editor Nur Nobi Dulal said on Monday that many users could not access Istishon since Sunday night and he urged the government to withdraw the “ban” immediately, according to the Dhaka Tribune. Banning and blocking individual and community blogs have become regular phenomena in Bangladesh since 2013. Several atheist bloggers from Somewhere in… blog and other blogs were banned by a government’s order in 2013, four of the bloggers were later arrested under the infamous act 57 of the ICT law for hurting religious sentiment. As a result, the Bangla blog community went in to black out, with no avail. Around the same time, an Islamist blog named Sonarbangla Blog was also banned. Such bans were part of a bigger picture of harsh censorship over public media – that also saw the bans of newspapers and TV channels, as the country was facing a near civil war crisis.

Under this restriction, the Bangla community blogging culture is in decline ever since. Istishon is a rare case in this regard; the community blog platform was launched in early 2013 and since then only increased in popularity. According to Parvez Alam, who regularly writes on Istishon, the blog has millions of followers. On Facebook he writes: “It’s a blog platform read by millions. My own blog alone has more than a hundred of blog posts and almost half a million views. Now the blog is not accessible anymore for Bangladeshi viewers, being another victim of severe censorship at the hand of Bangladeshi Government.” Some consider Istishon as a secular and left leaning blogging platform, but it actually is a blogging platform where bloggers with diverse world views speak their minds, some of them are also Islamists. Bangladeshi bloggers, writers and activists of all kinds of alignment are protesting against the blocking of the website. Asad Ali, a popular Islamist writer wrote: I am writing in Istishon blog for the last couple of years… A platform that generally has all sorts of bloggers, some theists, some atheists, some belong to Awami League, others to BNP or Jamaat. So there will always be some blog posts that criticize religion or the Government…I condemn such an imprudent decision by the government and ask the Government to unblock the site.

Acute Censorship has become part and parcel of the difficult reality Bangladeshi society is facing in recent years. The 73-year-old atheist writer Shamsuzzoha Manik languishes in prison since February 15 2016, for publishing a book that allegedly hurts religious sentiments. He was arrested under act 57, which does not give him right to bail, and if found guilty, he faces 14 years of jail. Recently, a leftist student leader named Dilip Roy was also arrested under the infamous ICT act, for criticizing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Facebook regarding her statement on the ongoing Rampal Power Station  project near Sundarban, the largest mangrove forest in the world – yet another example of the ICT law being used to silent critics of the Government. Currently, Dilip Roy is simply being held in the jail without any chance for bail.

Arresting vocal critics of the social, religious and political status quo of the country and holding them in jail for an indefinite period has become common in Bangladesh; all kind of critics are under such persecution. Iftekhar Jamil, a popular young Islamist writer was also arrested recently and since then was not granted bail. Police charged him for being a member of Islami Chatra Shibir, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh. Although the organization is not an illegal entity in Bangladesh, the police have been extra hard on its members in recent years and have arrested many just for being involved with the organization. In Jamil‘s case, he had no affiliation with the organization. Calling him a Shibir member was just an excuse to arrest him.

We condemn the blocking of Istishon and ask for its immediate unblocking. This situation does not only undermine the freedom of speech in Bangladesh, but will also make things worse by taking the country in a downward spiral. We want the release of Dilip Roy, Iftekhar Jamil and Shamsuzzoha Manik. We demand a revised ICT law and the abolition of the draconian act 57.

Read more: “Istishon blog blocked for Bangladesh users” in the Dhaka Tribune

How will you stand with Bangladesh?

Written by: PARVEZ ALAM – It is difficult not to be shocked by the photos of the terrorists that participated in the recent Dhaka attack; they are grinning from ear to ear with automatic rifles in their hands as the black flag of IS can be seen in the background. Photos of five young homegrown Bangladeshi IS fighters responsible for the recent Dhaka attack was published by the Site Intelligence group and since then have taken their place in the global media. Shock, disbelief or disgust, whatever you feel doesn’t matter to them as they are dead now, nor did it matter when they were alive and were posing during their photo sessions. For them and their ideological comrades, these images represents nothing but sheer courage and heroism, and their utter lack of concern for life in this world. No matter what kind of emotion they invoke in your heart, these photos will only further encourage potential jihadists.

The Bangladesh Government is claiming success in their dealing with the hostage crisis, but it was surely a success for the terrorists themselves as not only did they manage to kill most of the foreign hostages who were their prime target (‘crusaders’ in their jihadi term) but they also generated plenty of media attention. It was not only a shortcut to paradise that they longed for; they also desired wide media coverage. Like the Charlie Hebdo attackers, whom Slavoj Zizek described as ‘the worst’ full of passionate intensity by quoting from William Butler Yeats,those who attacked the Holey Restaurant in Gulshan were radicals engaged in ‘active nihilism’. They were ready to risk their own mundane lives, willing to go out laughing, or at least that is what they seem to have wanted us to see. And that was the purpose of their photo shoot.

There is little doubt that IS and their Bangladeshi affiliates got everything they wanted. They got live coverage from CNN and front page coverage in most of the international media. But who does it help and what does it do for Bangladesh? Both this act of terror and its worldwide coverage make the country’s diverse international affairs – from its textile industry to labor export to the game of cricket – quite vulnerable. The textile industry was still usffering from last years attacks by IS affiliates who killed several foreign nationals and there is now news in the media that major fashion brands and aide organizations are reconsidering their investments and involvement in the country. Thus covering Bangladesh as one of the next big frontier of IS doesn’t help Bangladesh in anyway. On the other hand, extensive media attention enjoyed by terrorist organizations and terrorist attacks ends up encouraging more such attacks, as has been shown by recent research. To make it clear, I am certainly not suggesting that the global media should remain silent. Almost uninterrupted transmission of information is what the contemporary global media promises, and I am not against that. But an increased sensibility and cautious approach is certainly needed. There also needs to be a show of solidarity with the world standing up with Bangladesh, as it did for Paris, Istanbul and Orlando. But covering it without much sensitivity, at a time when the country needs everybody to stand with it, will be a fatal blow to this already-crumbling nation. Therefore, one must ask, how do you plan to stand with Bangladesh?

The country has been featured well in the global media lately, which is a bit odd for a country that generally gets little or no attention in the western media unless there is a killer cyclone or a collapsed factory killing thousands. The very name of the country, Bangladesh, has come to symbolize utter doom and calamity to many Westerners. For a long time it has been seen as nothing more than an over-populated land where thousands die from natural disasters that will eventually just sink into the Indian Ocean as the climate continues to warm up. But recently, it is the recent news of individual deaths that came to the forefront, when atheist, homo-sexual, hindu or Buddhist priests and those belonging to religious minorities were killed at regular intervals by Islamist extremists. The project of ‘Covering Bangladesh’ in the Western media, however, remains faithful to its character; it is mostly coverage of calamity and doom. This time it is Bangladesh’s secular democracy that is facing an existential crisis as Bangladesh now seems to simply represent the tragedy of a country born with secular and democratic principles sinking under the threats of terrorism and autocracy.

Bangladesh is no different from many other countries that have become a frontier of Salafist ideological expansion since the 1980s. While as a poor country, Bangladesh depends heavily on Saudi Arabia for its labor market, it is also the victim of its spreading Salafism in Bangladesh. Like Bush and Blair, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is guilty of participating in state terrorism in the name of a ‘war on terror’. Like some of the Western leadership who promised to stand with Bangladesh after the Gulshan attack, Sheikh Hasina is allied with Saudi Arabia, whom Bangladesh recently joined in a military coalition.

Saudi Arabia indeed has a dubious relationship to terrorism. Salafism is its official religion and Al Qaeda and IS both espouse the Salafist version of Islam that has its roots in the rise of the Saudi Monarchy. It was actually borne out of an 18th-century movement in Hijaz, which is actually very similar to the movement of IS. It is a well-known fact that Salafism is being exported through Saudi Arabia’s funding efforts and its substantial influence around the world. Saudi Arabia and IS have a complex love-hate relationship. However, the differences between the Salafist who supports the Saudi monarchy and opposes IS, and the Salafist who supports IS and opposes the monarchy are more technical than ideological. Many are currently asking how Western powers can support Saudi Arabia as they fight IS at the same time. Sheikh Hasina’s newly forged close ties with the kingdom will only make things worse for Bangladesh. Not only will Bangladesh become a more fertile ground for Salafism but it will also become a more attractive target of global jihadism. It is not very pragmatic to think that the world that stands with Saudi Arabia can also stand with Bangladesh in fighting terrorism. It didn’t work in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria. It will not work in Bangladesh either. The best way to defeat terrorism is to stop taking part in it, as Noam Chomsky noted. Not an easy task when you consider Bangladesh’s current political situation and its position in the current world order. All the terrorists who participated in the Gulshan attack were homegrown, so were most of those who participated in the Paris attacks, but both are extensions of the war that is currently raging in the Middle East. If you really want to help Bangladesh then it’s vital to talk about the influence of global politics in Bangladesh and the neo-colonial power relationships that bind this country with numerous global forces rather than just talking about the hopeless situation the Bangaldeshi people face.

Since the spate of target killings of secular writers, publishers, professors and people from diverse religious minorities began in Bangladesh, the Western media has been keen to describe Bangladesh as ‘a country with a 90% Muslim population’ as if those murderers and 90% of the population of Bangladesh belong to the same religion. Like Christianity, Islam is a diverse religion; especially in the case of Bangladesh, where the population whom we are calling Muslim is very diverse in both beliefs and practice. Many of those killed thus far have been religious Muslims themselves, guilty of not following the same version of Islam as Al Qaeda or IS. Recently, the country has also been described in the global media as ‘a 90% Sunni Muslim country, which is a potential area for the growth of IS’. However, Sunnism as an identity is largely nonexistent in Bangladesh, explicitly espoused only by a very small group of political or jihadi islamists. No historical context of conflict exists between the Sunni and the Shiite in Bangladesh, certainly nothing akin to what we currently see occurring in Iraq or Syria. The anti-Shiite attacks in Bangladesh over the past few years was a mimic of what has been occurring throughout much of the Middle East, as perpetrated by the adherents of Salafi extremism. It should also be noted that the Muslims who were recently attacked or murdered in Bangladesh did not only belong to Shiite, Sufi or Ahmedia communities, but many were also followers of traditional versions of Sunnism. Boxing the country into the comfortable categories only helps the media, not the country. Is it the best way to stand with Bangladesh when it faces such a mortal enemy?

Another recent media trend that we can see in covering Bangladesh is calling it a country consisting of a largely ‘Moderate Muslim’ population. Let me make it clear, putting the Bangladeshi people in some black, white and gray boxes like liberal, moderate and extremists will in no way help the world to understand the situation in Bangladesh. It is the very diversity of religion and ideas that enriches Bangladesh which is currently in crisis. Never have terms like ‘Islam’ become so monolithic as they are currently being applied in the age of the internet. Trying to draw a homogenous picture of Bangladesh’s population will in no way improve the current situation; instead it will simply make the ‘diversity’ of religions and ideas in Bangladesh more vulnerable, which is already pretty much the case.

It is not only the terrorists who are responsible for transforming the lives of Bangladeshi’s more and more into ‘bare life,’ to borrow a term from Giorgio Agamben. Many people were killed by various law enforcement agencies over the past few years – people who had little or no connection to terrorism. Not only has the Hasina government robbed the people of their democracy and created the space for extremism to operate, but it also has policies that in an effort to confront extremism simply ended up escalating it.

Even last month almost 15,000 people were arrested by the police in a crackdown on terrorism. Only a handful among them had any connection to extremism and most of them were either common goons or activists belonging to political opponents of the ruling party. Such actions simply foster more grievances and the growth of terrorism itself. As we saw in Iraq, jails provided terrorist masterminds a valuable place for recruitment by turning them into Jihadi Universities. Terrorist campaigns often ride on a popular wave of dissatisfaction against the ruling elite.
So one should ask, how can the world stand with the people of Bangladesh while simultaneously also standing with the government of Sheikh Hasina? It is true that Hasina’s government is responsible for confiscating the people’s democracy and failing to preserve peace and development in return. But no external intervention or internal coup at this moment will restore democracy and peace in Bangladesh. We have seen these same kinds of efforts fail in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Any sudden change in political power will result in some other kind of autocracy, or provide a larger space for organizations like IS to grow. It’s indeed a very sensitive situation. What needs to be done is to help the people of Bangladesh create a more inclusive political space where debates and dialogue between various sections of the society can take place and people can participate in the processes that control their lives.
Therefore, what needs to be done, without any doubt, is to stand with the people of Bangladesh who refuse to become ‘bare life’ that can be killed either by the terrorists or by the police or abandoned by the world at large in their time of crisis. It is people like Faraz Ayaz, who, according to the account of another hostage in the Holey Restaurant on the fateful night of 2 July, sacrificed his life by refusing to abandon his non-Bangladeshi and non-Muslim friends, deserves a lot more coverage than the black-clad terrorists. He did not undergo months of psychological preparation before offering his life like the terrorists did. He did not have a desire for some shortcut to paradise. Yet, when the moment came, he did not heistate to risk and ultimately sacrifice his life for the others. There are many more young people like him in Bangladesh than those slaughterers who follow IS. Yet it is the slaughterers who received most of the coverage.

And why does Bangladesh only get media coverage when it is drowning, literally or figuratively? What about its triumphs? What about the villagers of Bashkhali who stood up against corporate and government oppression and were shot down by the police just a couple of months ago? Didn’t they deserve a lot more attention than those who kill innocent people in a suicide mission? What about the garment workers of Savar who were recently shot by police for protesting for salary? What about the activists who are still fighting to save a mangrove forest and the tigers living in it in such a volatile and oppressive national political situation and continue to chant for ‘life’, ‘nature’, and ‘ecology’?

If you really want to stand with Bangladesh, do not only stand with it after a tragedy, but also with those who struggle so heroically. Don’t just cover Bangladesh when some villains commit a crime, but also when activists and ordinary people perform tremendous heroic acts. Ahmed Sofa, a prominent Bangladeshi thinker once said: we are living in an age when we have to think by giving blood. People in Bangladesh still need to think by giving blood, these days more than ever in its history since independence. Yet they have not stopped thinking, speaking, writing or fighting. It is imperative to understand that the people of Bangladesh should not simply be portrayed as unfortunate ‘objects’ who have no option but to become the victims of political, industrial or natural tragedies. They should also be portrayed as political subjects who are constantly struggling not to become bare lives. Only when there is a change in perspective can the portion of the world that stands for peace and democracy find its ally in Bangladesh and stand with them. This world should also remember that their best ally in Bangladesh might not be considered liberal by contemporary Western standards (and that liberal from a Bangladesh stand point may always look different from the familiar Western definition). It is true that the progressive forces in Bangladesh can still learn a lot from the Western liberals. but then again, it also tells us that the ‘bests’ in Bangladesh are not at all devoid of passionate intensity, something the Western liberal lacks so much of these days.

HPP hands over petition to Bangladeshi Ambassador


On Friday 10 June, the Hague Peace Projects, in collaboration with Free Press Unlimited and Humanistisch Verbond, handed over the petition to the Bangladeshi Ambassador in the Netherlands. The petition calls upon the Bangladeshi Government to take action with regard to violence against bloggers, freethinkers and other minorities in Bangladesh.

Read here our (Dutch) press release for full summary: Press Release Bangladeshi Petition

Photo’s: Eric Kampherbeek








In memory of freethinker Nazimuddin Samad

“Dear Government, please be vigilant. The way law and order is deteriorating, you will not be able to stay in power for long. There is something called peoples anger. If you don’t want to see such end, take immediate actions against all the wrongdoing and injustice that is going on. Otherwise your time will end soon”.

These are the last words Bangladeshi student activist and freethinker Nazimuddin Samad wrote in his Facebook wall. The words reflect the frustration of young Bangladeshi activists in this time effected by the persistent culture of impunity and injustice in the country. He witnessed how free thinkers, bloggers, writers and publishers around him were attacked and killed over the last couple of years. After each attack, he and his likeminded friends demanded justice. But their demands went unheard.

Over the last weeks he was whole heartedly active in a nationwide anti rape movement asking for investigation and justice for a 19-year-old girl named Sohagi Jahan Tonu who was raped and murdered in a cantonment area. This heinous crime resulted in a nationwide up rise of youth, yet the Government failed to undertake meaningful action, supposedly for the sensitiveness of the issue. And right after the rape case police shot dead 6 villagers who were protesting against a coal power plant being built on their land.

Continuing his demand for justice he made his last Facebook post. On Wednesday the 7th of April 2016 he was hacked with machete and shot dead by unknown assailants shouting Allahu Akbar (God is great). Is he yet another victim of the Islamist extremists?

Since 2013, seven Bangladeshi bloggers, writers and publishers have been killed by extremists. They were branded atheist by their murderers and by Islamists. A culture of impunity persists, resulting in more killings every few months. Other than these, people with different religious beliefs and non-beliefs are regularly targeted facing harassment, arrests, mob justice and murder.

Like Nazimuddin Samad, the victims of the attacks are not people who are specifically critical or insulting about religion. They are people who are socially and politically conscious and vocal against many forms of injustice. They are thousands of frustrated young people, asking for justice, living in a country that fails to protect them.

His attackers made sure that Nazimuddin Samad can no longer demand for justice. But his pledge continues and therefore we ‘Bangladeshi Freethinkers at Risk’ demand justice for Nazimuddin Samad, We demand justice for Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, Ananta Bejoy, NiloyNeel, Faisal ArifinDipan. We demand justice for Sohagi Jahan Tonu. We demand justice for the six villagers that were killed in Bashkhali. We demand justice for all the victims of intolerance. We demand justice!



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.

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.

Februari 21: Bangladesh Alternative Book Fair in The Hague

Picture 1_Protest

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.

Picture 3_Sketch after 3rd killing in 2015

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.

Picture 4_People paying tribute to Avijit

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 In cooperation with: Logo-Muktomona-100x61.pngiheu-logo-2013.jpg


The American Book Center