For Immediate Release: July 31, 2015
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
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The Center for Inquiry welcomed the introduction this week of a resolution in the U.S House of Representatives calling on Bangladesh to protect human rights and curb violence caused by religious extremists. CFI has been working to assist individuals in Bangladesh who have been targeted and threatened by Islamic extremists, and has long partnered with reformers to end the oppression of secularists and religious minorities.
H.Res. 396, introduced by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), notes that despite Bangladesh’s secular founding and the coexistence of various religious groups — Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and atheists — the country has long been the flashpoint for sectarian violence, including attacks on Hindus, and the brutal murders of secularist bloggers, by Islamic extremists. Islamist groups linked to Al Qaeda have slaughtered at least eight freethought writers and activists in the past 11 years, three of which were killed in 2015 alone, including Avijit Roy, a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origin. Meanwhile, in recent years extremists have also looted and burned dozens of Hindu properties, houses, and temples.
Citing the close economic ties between the U.S. and Bangladesh, Rep. Gabbard’s resolution calls upon the government of Bangladesh to “stop radical organizations … who pose an ongoing threat to the country’s stability and secular democracy,” and “protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens, particularly vulnerable minorities.”
“Bangladeshi government officials, as well the extremists seeking to impose their will on the country, need to know that the United States is watching, concerned with the situation, and will not hesitate to play a role in protecting basic human rights in the country” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s main representative to the United Nations. “By backing Rep. Gabbard’s resolution, Congress would ensure that this message is heard loud and clear. It will also be a fitting way to honor the sacrifices made by brave activists, such as Avijit Roy, who were killed simply because their murderers could not abide criticism of their ideas. Bangladesh must do better, and we must urge them to do so.”
Earlier this year, CFI established the Freethought Emergency Fund, launched to assist writers and activists in countries like Bangladesh who have been explicitly targeted for death by Islamic extremist groups, helping to move them to safety. In May, CFI brought Bangladesh-born human rights champion Taslima Nasrin to the U.S. from India after she became the target of death threats, made by those who also claimed responsibility for the recent murders of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh.
In 2013, Bangladesh arrested seven atheist bloggers, bowing to pressure from hardline Islamists, in response to which the Center for Inquiry partnered with activists such as Avijit Roy to mount worldwide protests for free expression.