On February 26 of this year, Avijit Roy, a bio-engineer, writer, and founder of the influential Bangladeshi blog Mukto-Mona (Freethinkers) was pulled from a bicycle rickshaw by two machete-wielding assailants and hacked to death in front of his wife, who was badly wounded trying to defend him. His murderers—members of an extremist group—claimed that Roy’s writings, which espouse secularism, democracy, and humanism, were a ‘crime against Islam.’
Over the past months, seven of Roy’s colleagues have been systematically and brutally attacked. Four of them have died from their wounds. Several extremist groups, including Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh, a local Al Qaeda affiliate, have claimed responsibility for these attacks. Dozens more bloggers, journalists, and activists, particularly those associated with disseminating Roy’s work, have received public death threats. Many of these writers are seeking asylum in fear for their lives.
PEN is working actively with bloggers on the hit list and the families of those already attacked to try to ensure their safety and freedom. We have sounded the alarm bells, demanding action by the Bangladeshi government and the international community to hold the perpetrators of these crimes to account.
While the Bangladeshi government is investigating these murders, it has yet to take substantive action. Some government officials have suggested that the victims brought the attacks upon themselves with their secular writings.
Just days ago, Bonya Ahmed, Roy’s widow, visited PEN’s SoHo office after having addressed the United Nations on the International Day to End Impunity. She thanked us for keeping this issue in the forefront of our advocacy and asked for PEN’s continued efforts to save the lives of those still at risk.