Freethought Today · December 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Bangladeshi atheist blogger fears for his life By Himu Brown

Nonbelief Relief gives Himu Brown $5,000 to escape persecution

Here is an edited version of the letter he wrote to FFRF seeking aid from Nonbelief Relief. (Himu Brown in a pseudonym.)

By Himu Brown

I was a typical Muslim — praying five times a day, fasting, and being involved in religious activities. One of my teachers introduced me to the writings of Aroj Ali Matubbar, the iconoclast of the freethinking movement of Bangladesh. After reading his writings, I was startled to find my old practiced religious beliefs were nothing but fallacies! What I believed from my childhood was wrong!

The internet also introduced me to a new era of knowledge. I joined an atheist online community to debate religious people. I started to read the blogs of famous atheist bloggers and enjoyed their strong writings with powerful logic. Then I began commenting on their posts to support them.

I started preaching the truth, rationality, scientific facts to my friends, students, and many others. To spread freethinking, I formed a group with several others called Aroz PathChakra (The Discussion Club of Aroj Ali Matubbar) in Barisal, my hometown.
Unfortunately, these activities somehow got leaked to the local Islamists, which is the reason for my current dire situation.

Death threats

The Islamists were so furious that they started to make hit lists, published in the Islamic blogs, and made death threats against us.

So, some trusted atheist bloggers formed a private group on Facebook. Despite the Islamists' constant threats, we were brave enough to face them with the power of truth and rationality.

But they were helpless and afraid of our writing, so they started to plot against us. They were waiting for a chance to abolish the atheists and freethinking community from the country. In 2013, the Islamist parties formed secret sleeper cells to kill the bloggers. Our situation became more critical.

The first attack was on Jan. 14, 2013, and the victim was renowned atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin, who was knifed, but somehow survived. I was alarmed, and, for the first time, I felt unsafe. On Feb. 5 that year, the Shahbagh Movement began against the acquittal of war criminal Kader Molla, who had commited atrocities during the 1971 Bangladeshi war of independence. At that time, I was in Barisal and we, the secular people of Barisal who supported the Shahbagh Movement, decided to protest the verdict.

Islamist political parties plotted against the bloggers who had started the movement. So, they chose one atheist blogger to be killed to spread panic and stop the movement. On Feb. 15, 2013, Ahmed Rajib Haider, one of the Shahbagh activists, was brutally murdered by the Islamists.

On Feb. 25, 2013, I was informed that there was a hit list of atheists in Barisal. I was alarmed and stopped going outside. The next day, I was called from an unknown number and an unknown voice threatened me with death.

Being afraid, I informed my fellow bloggers and our secret Facebook thread members. They advised me to not move alone and delete all anti-Islamic posts and comments. Some suggested informing the police, but I did not dare, as I heard that the government was planning to take action against the atheist bloggers.

On March 31 of that year, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to punish those who made online insults against Islam. The cabinet approved an ordinance that would empower law enforcement to arrest any person without warrant and increase the highest punishment to 14 years from seven years.

Because of this, I had to stop all my blogging activities and leave Barisal to save my life. I had to take a job in a rural nongovernment educational institution as an English instructor.

During this time, my wife gave birth to our daughter on July 3, 2014.

Feeling vulnerable

On Feb. 26, 2015, after the murder of Avijit Roy, the founder of the Mukto Mona blog, I became terrified and felt vulnerable, but could not express my mental condition to anyone, even my wife.

The killings of Wasikar Babu and Ananta Bijoy Das, two more bloggers and online activists, made me feel that my country was totally unsafe for atheists and freethinkers.
After July 26, 2015, when I went to my educational institution where I taught, I found that one young person was following me. But I ignored this. After completing my classes one day, I saw others that were coming behind me. I felt uneasy, so I hailed a motorcycle driver and he helped me get home.

After this happened several more times, I could not tolerate it anymore. I stopped going to work. After informing some of the senior bloggers and trusted friends, I went to Dhaka to find shelter.

Unfortunately, I could not stay there long, as I found some unknown people were observing me from the roof of the opposite building. Changing my location, I took shelter at my father-in-law's house in the town of Patuakhali. But there, I also discovered two or three people always stood near my in-laws' house trying to keep tabs on me.

Then another blogger was killed on Aug. 7, 2015. The killers even entered his home.

Hearing the news, I lost all my confidence and was psychologically broken. I again changed my location, leading an unfortunate and panic-stricken life. With the help of Front-Line Defenders and Forum Asia, a well-known human rights organization, I was able to get safe temporary shelter in Nepal, but had to leave my parents, my small child and my wife in a vulnerable situation.

When the group relocated me, it told me that it was temporary help only for three months. Understanding my helplessness, however, Forum Asia extended its support for another three months. I requested to Amnesty International via Sayeed Ahmed of Front-Line Defenders to help aid in the relocation of my wife and child. When the support of Forum Asia was over in February 2016, my wife and child were relocated to Nepal with grants from Amnesty International.

Due to these circumstances, we are very anxious about our future. We don't know how we will survive here. We don't have any job options, as refugees aren't allowed to work legally.

Sometimes, I think of going back to Bangladesh, but it is not possible for many reasons. The situation is worsening for atheists like me.

In such a critical situation, I am totally at a loss. I cannot return to my own country, and yet I don't have another safe place where I can live without fear. I cannot continue my writing.

I appeal to your humanitarian organization to help me and my family, so that I caxn survive and live. I want to save my life not only for myself and my family, but also so that I may contribute to humanity. If I am compelled to return to Bangladesh, Islamists who know me as an atheist won't hesitate to kill me.

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