The government of Bangladesh must ensure freedom of expression online, prevent arbitrary killings

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By APC and Bytes for All, Pakistan (APC)
, August 2015

APC and Bytes for All, Pakistan strongly condemn the murder of Bangladeshi blogger Niloy Neel. We grieve over this senseless act of violence together with Niloy’s family and friends, and extend unconditional solidarity and our deepest condolences to the victims of crimes of intolerance towards free expression.

This tragic loss of life is the latest in a string of attacks on Bangladeshi bloggers and reporters. In March of 2013, the government of Bangladesh formed a committee to track bloggers that it deems guilty of critical speech. The committee prepared a list of 84 bloggers with an aim to take action against them for their allegedly “anti Islam” writings, essentially handing extremists a “kill list”. The trend of attacks on bloggers has reached an alarming rate in 2015, with five attacks this year, four of them fatal.

Despite attempts by the government of Bangladesh to curb speech both on the internet and offline, bloggers and online activists continue to play an important role in highlighting abuses of human rights and social justice issues in the country. “It is the role of bloggers to voice criticism, ask questions, and tell stories that are not being told,” said Anriette Esterhuysen, executive director of APC. “The murder of Neel and other bloggers in Bangladesh who used the internet to challenge extremism and oppose fundamentalism is also an extreme form of censorship, silencing not just one voice, but contributing to a climate of fear and tension which makes it almost impossible to address the underlying causes of violence and intolerance.”

The government of Bangladesh has the obligation to ensure the right to freedom of expression and to prevent arbitrary killings under its treaty obligations as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  

We call on the government of Bangladesh to protect and promote freedom of expression online and offline, in particular by halting its crackdown against bloggers and journalists practising their rights to free speech. Furthermore, we strongly urge the government to immediately ensure the safety, non-discrimination and well-being of its people, by deploying protection mechanisms for bloggers and other citizens of the internet, so that future instances of violence can be averted and addressed. 

“The trend of criminalisation of free expression and open discourse, particularly in online spaces, in the name of religion is extremely alarming,” said Shahzad Ahmad, director of Bytes for All, Pakistan. “In a world of over seven billion individuals and an enormous diversity of beliefs, religious argument itself relies on the fundamentals of freedom of expression and tolerance in order to flourish,” Ahmad added.

The recent arrest of three men who are suspected of killing Bangladeshi bloggers Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das, who were murdered earlier this year, is a first step towards justice for these crimes. But until the government ends impunity for violence against bloggers, freedom of opinion, belief and expression, the very fundamentals of democratic society, are at risk. 

APC and Bytes for All, Pakistan are actively monitoring the situation in countries most severely affected by attacks on freedom of expression on the basis of religious sensitivities, such as Bangladesh, Maldives, Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan.

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