Blogger's widow urges safe houses for writers on death lists

AP News
Posted: Nov 02, 2015 7:18 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The widow of a Bangladeshi-American atheist blogger killed earlier this year decried the Bangladesh government's failure to prosecute the perpetrators of deadly attacks on writers Monday and urged countries to provide safe houses for dozens more on death lists.

Rafida Ahmed, who was hacked four times in the head and had her thumb sliced off in the Feb. 26 attack in Dhaka that killed her husband Avijit Roy, was the surprise speaker at a panel Monday to mark the second International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. They lived in Atlanta and were visiting Bangladesh where he spoke at a book fair just before the attack.

Ahmed, who helped her husband with his writings, said there is a death list of 84 bloggers given to the government by "Islamic terrorists," adding that they are also killing people outside the list and she has also been threatened.

Since the beginning of the year, she said, five writers, bloggers and publishers have been killed and many more wounded for promoting "free thoughts, secularism and freedom of speech." The latest attacks on Saturday killed one publisher, Faisal Arefin Deepan who published two of her husband's books, and critically injured another, Ahmed Rahim Tutul, whose wife and children fear for their lives, she said.

"Before they used to attack in the dark," Ahmed said. "Now the extent of impunity is so great that they attack us in broad daylight, in front of thousands of people, or even inside the residences or the offices of the writers and the publishers."

She called the situation "dire" and said hunting down and "hacking people with a voice" who wanted to make a difference in their country has become a monthly activity for the "Islamic terrorists" — because they know "the Bangladeshi government will stay silent, no matter what they do."

"We are living in a country right now where the bloggers, writers, journalists do not feel safe to express their views anymore," Ahmed said.

Ahmed urged safe countries "to build safe houses so that our writers can get to safety until the situation gets better."

She said she and other bloggers living outside Bangladesh have gone from embassy to embassy and talked to "humanist organizations" to try to find a way to get threatened writers out of the country.

Ahmed urged national and international organizations to invite these people to visit for a year, in which case they can get visas to get out of the country.

This is the best way, she said, "to save these people."

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement marking the day noted that more than 700 journalists have been killed in the last decade — one every five days — "simply for bringing news and information to the public."

Many perish in conflicts but "all too many have been deliberately silenced for trying to report the truth," he said. "Only 7 percent of such cases are resolved and less than one crime out of 10 is ever fully investigated."