Bangladesh bloggers fear deadly backlash won’t end soon

DHAKA, BANGLADESH (TIP): Omi Rahman Pial has changed homes five times in the last three months. He hasn’t seen his young daughter in weeks and is afraid to be seen on the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital and home to several grisly killings of secular bloggers like him.

“I am a refugee in my own country,” he said. “And under the threat of being killed, nowhere to go. Where should I go? So if you want to see the maximum punishment a blogger could get in Bangladesh, look at me.”

Fear is running high following months in which four bloggers and three other people have been killed, allegedly by Islamist radicals. Many bloggers have gone into hiding, and some have left the country.

Authorities blame the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its main Islamist ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, saying they want to destabilize the country ahead of executions, expected late this year, of two influential politicians from the two parties for war crimes. Some of the victims were involved in a movement that has pressed for capital punishment for those politicians and several others for actions during the country’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan. Two of the politicians have been executed.

The parties deny involvement in the killings, saying Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government is pushing hard-liners to strike back by cracking down on its opponents. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility, but authorities deny that the Sunni extremist group has any presence in the South Asian country.

The blogger attacks have made many fear the rise of religious radicalism in this Muslim-majority nation known since independence for its secularism.

The first strike this year came in February when American-Bangladeshi blogger and writer Avijit Roy was hacked to death as he and his wife walked on the campus of Dhaka University. Then three other secular bloggers have been killed in daylight attacks in Dhaka and outside.

Early this fall, two foreigners – an Italian aid worker and a Japanese agriculture researcher – were killed within a week of each other. The IS group claimed responsibility, as it did Oct. 31, when assailants attacked two book publishers in their Dhaka offices; one died man died and three others were critically injured.

“I am scared. They may kill me anytime,” Pial said in an apartment he shares with another blogger who has also gone into hiding, fearing for his life.

“I have not seen my 6-year-old daughter for weeks, my wife is safe for now as she is outside the country with a scholarship. I don’t go outside for days,” Pial said.

“It’s a difficult time for us, for the nation. I don’t know where we are heading to.”

Pial often appears in television talk shows and stands against radical religious ideologies, war criminals and the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which he says should be banned for extremism and its stand against the country’s independence. He views the killings by suspected radicals as part of a “pseudo-war” against the ongoing war-crimes proceedings, which he has advocated for years.


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