“No Country For Secular Bloggers”: Niloy Neel is the Fourth Bangladeshi Blogger Killed in 2015

Murdered blogger Niladri Chakrabarty Neel, Image by Reza Sumon. Copyright Demotix (7/8/2015)

Murdered blogger Niloy Neel, Image by Reza Sumon. Copyright Demotix (7/8/2015)

On Friday, August 7 at approximately 1:45pm, five assailants armed with machetes entered the flat of blogger Niloy Neel and killed him brutally. When his wife and sister attempted to save him, the attackers threatened to kill them too.

Niloy is the fourth blogger to be killed in Bangladesh over the last six months. All those killed were secular and critical of conservative religious political movements in the country. Many more have been attacked, subjected to death threats and ostracized by religious hardliners for their writing.

The blogger had written under the pen name “Niloy Neel” in Istishon (meaning “station” in Bengali) as a member of a Bengali group blog that covered political and social issues. Expat blogger Arif Rahman noted that he completed a Master's degree in philosophy from Dhaka University in 2013.

Neel was vocal about secularism and wrote for the platform “Ganajagaran Mancha,” demanding capital punishment for 1971 war criminals. Dr. Imran H Sarkar, a leader of Ganajagaran Mancha, writes on Facebook:

‪#‎NiloyNeel‬ was writing for women rights, indigenous peoples, even for all other minorities. He was critic of religious extremism that provoked bombing in mosque and killing thousands of civilians.

He was one of the voice for Social Justice, secularism, human rights and loud for ‪#‎AvijitRoy‬ justice. He frequently got threatened by islamic militants those are trying to destroy this country by terrorism.

The names of these bloggers and others under threat appeared on a list of 84 people submitted to a special government committee by a group of conservative Muslim clerics who accused the bloggers of “atheism” and writing against Islam. Government officials responded by blocking critical websites and making arrests, of bloggers and leaders from the religious right, at the height of #shahbag protests in 2013. Some media outlets, including prominent right-wing blogs, have even propagated the idea that all bloggers are atheists who “hurt the feelings” of religious Bangladeshis. Eleven of the bloggers on the list (including Niloy) have been killed over the past two years.

Niloy also was active in Facebook, where he shared his opinions on political issues, but also described the threats he was facing. On May 15, 2015, he wrote:

আমাকে দুজন মানুষ অনুসরণ করেছে গত পরশু। ‘অনন্ত বিজয় দাশ হত্যার’ প্রতিবাদে আয়োজিত প্রতিবাদ সমাবেশে যোগদান শেষে আমার গন্তব্যে আসার পথে এই অনুসরণটা করা হয়।

I was followed by two people two days ago while returning home after attending a protest programme demanding justice for the murder of blogger Ananta Bijoy Das.

He went to the police station to file a complaint (general diary), and wrote his experience:

First, a police officer told me personally that the police do not usually register such GDs since the officer who registers it will be accountable for ensuring security of the justice seeker. And if the person faces any problem, that police officer may even lose job for negligence in duties.

Niloy soon after removed all his photos from his Facebook profile as a precaution.

Golam Mortaza questions the government for inaction:

ব্লগার বা অনলাইন লেখকদের ‘নাস্তিক ‘ হিসেবে চিহ্নিত করে হত্যা করা হচ্ছে। এই হত্যাকারীদের বিরুদ্ধে ব্যবস্থা নেয়া মানে ‘নাস্তিক ‘ হত্যাকারীদের বিরুদ্ধে ব্যবস্থা নেয়া। নাস্তিকদের যারা হত্যা করছে, তাদের বিরুদ্ধে ব্যাবস্থা নেয়া মানে নাস্তিকদের পক্ষ নেয়া। সরকারের দৃষ্টিভঙ্গি এরকমই। সরকার বক্তব্যে কোনো রাখঢাক নেই। স্পষ্ট বক্তব্য ‘আমরা নাস্তিক হিসেবে পরিচিত হতে চাই না। ‘

Bloggers or online writers are being labeled as atheists. Its like taking actions against the killers is the same as taking action against the killer of atheists. To take action against against the killer of atheists is taking sides with the atheists. The government thinks in this way. They are not hiding it. They are saying by their actions “We dont want to be labeled as atheists”.

One powerful group targeting secular bloggers is Hefajat-e-Islam Bangladesh, an association-based fundamentalist Islamic group in Bangladesh that has sought to ban the right of women to work outside of home and promoted the execution of so-called atheist bloggers.

Shaugat Ali Sagor writes in Facebook:

৮৪ জন কেন ৮৪০০ ব্লগারের জীবনের চেয়েও সরকার যে নাস্তিকদের সমর্থক নয় সেটার প্রমান দেওয়া জরুরী। ৮৪ জন ব্লগারের জীবনের বিনিময়েও যদি হাটহাজারীর হেফাজতওয়ালারা খুশি থাকে, সরকারকে হেফাজতে রাখে- সেটিই বরং দরকার।

আশ্চর্য! হাসপাতালের মর্গে একেকটা লাশ যেমন একেকটা নাম্বার, মানে সংখ্যা মাত্র।একেকজন ব্লগারও যেন কেবল নাস্তিক মাত্র। তারা রাষ্ট্রের নাগরিকক নন- কাজেই রাষ্ট্রের কোনো প্রটেকশন তারা পান না, তারা মানুষ নন- তাদের কোনো মানবাধিকার নেই। আর হ্যাঁ, খুন হয়ে যাওয়া ‘ব্লগারটি’ নাস্তিক ছিলেন- এই কথাটি একবার মুখ দিয়ে বের করা গেলে, সেটি প্রচারে হেফাজত আর সরকারের সমর্থকরাও একাকার হয়ে যান।'ব্লগার নামধারী নাস্তিকরা দেশের স্থিতিশীলতা নষ্টের চক্রান্তে লিপ্ত, সরকারকে বিব্রত করতে চায়’- নিকট অতীতে কোনো কোনো এমপিকেওতো এমন কথা বলতে শুনেছি।

Why only 84? Even if the number of the dead bloggers is 8400, it is far more important to prove that the government is not aiding the atheists. Even if the lives of 84 bloggers can make the Hefajat-e-Islam Bangladesh happy, keep the government safe [from political pressure] then that is important.

Amazing! The dead bodies of fallen bloggers in the morgue are just numbers. All the bloggers are only atheists. They are not the citizens of the land – so they do not get any protection. They are not human – they have no human rights. And yes, if you can somehow establish that the murdered blogger was an atheist, everyone including the government keeps preaching it. Some members of parliament have said in the past that “in the name of bloggers, atheists are disturbing the stability of the country, they want to embarrass the government.”

Jyotirmoy Barua, a lawyer and activist writes that bloggers need to unite:

রাস্তায় প্রতিবাদ করা ছাড়া আর কোন কাজে ব্লগারদের একাট্টা হওয়ার কোন ঘটনা এপর্যন্ত ঘটেনি। এটাই ব্লগারদের সবচেয়ে বড় দুর্বলতা। একটি সংগঠিত দল বা গোষ্ঠী না হওয়া সত্ত্বেও তারা দল বা গোষ্ঠী হিসেবে টার্গেট।

তাই সংগঠিত হোন- নয়ত বাঁচবেন না। প্ল্যাটফর্ম তৈরি করুন। প্রতিরোধ করতে শিখুন। প্রতিবাদে কাজ হবে না। দেশে আইনের শাসন নেই, তাই চেঁচিয়ে লাভ হবে না।

So far the bloggers have not been able to unite on a platform other than protesting in the streets. This is the weak point of the bloggers [of Bangladesh]. They are not a united or cohesive group. But they are being targeted as a group.

So please unite – or you will not live. Build a platform. Learn to defend. Simply protesting is not going to work. There is no rule of law in the country – so crying aloud won't help.

Statement claiming responsibility for Niloy's killing sent to media houses from the email ansar.al.islam.bd @gmail. com

Statement claiming responsibility for Niloy's killing sent to media houses from the email ansar.al.islam.bd @gmail. com

According to news reports Ansar-Al-Islam, the Bangladesh chapter of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-Continent, has claimed responsibility for the killing of blogger Niloy, terming him an enemy of Allah. Witnesses reported that while retreating from Niloy's apartment, his attackers reportedly chanted slogans like “Allahu Akbar”.

An email sent to media houses in Bangladesh reportedly read: “Praise be the God! Soldiers of Ansar-Al-Islam [AQIS, Bangladesh Branch] carried out an operation to slaughter an enemy of God and his messenger (peace & blessings be upon him), whose name is Niloy Chowdhury Neel.”

Meanwhile on Friday the police apprehended Hefajat-e-Islam leader Mufti Izharul Islam Chowdhury over an unrelated incident. Chittagong-based radical group Hefazats Nayeb-e-Amir Izaharul is also the chief of Nezame Islam Party, which opposed Bangladesh’s independence in 1971. One item on Hefazat's agenda is to impose capital punishment on all the atheists in Bangladesh, despite the fact that atheists have the same rights as other citizens in Bangladesh.

In May, Global Voices published a statement issuing a call for safety for all Bangladeshi bloggers and pleading with the Bangladeshi government to bring the killers to justice. Hours after Niloy's killing, the Committee to Protect Journalists published a statement posing a question that many bloggers and human rights advocates today are asking:

How many more bloggers must be murdered before the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina acts decisively to stem the violence and impunity?


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