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Islamists issue death threat against leading Bangladeshi blogger

Bangladeshi blogger Imran H Sarker says he has received a death threat from the "Islamic State" via Facebook. In an interview with DW, the blogger explained why he is taking the threat seriously.

Dhaka-based blogger Imran H Sarker is one of the most widely read and popular bloggers in the country with nearly a million followers on his social media handles.

He represents a blogger community that promotes the idea of a secular and tolerant environment in the Muslim-majority country. Sarker is an active voice against religious fundamentalism and also a critic of the ruling government of Sheikh Hasina.

A few days ago, last Saturday, Sarker says he received a death threat on his Facebook page. The entry reads: "You (Sarker) are a black sheep for the Muslims. Just prepare to get killed as your life is on the point of ruin (sic). You will be killed like the foreigners."

The threat refers to

the recent slaying of two foreigners

- an Italian and a Japanese - in Bangladesh. Moreover, four bloggers have been murdered so far this year.

Sarker, who occasionally writes for DW’s Bengali website, is taking the threat seriously and has filed a formal complaint with the Dhaka police seeking a quick investigation. He told DW about his growing concern about activities of religious extremists in Bangladesh.

Watch video 06:26

Bloggers combating religious extremists

DW: You say you have received a death threat on Facebook. Who do you think is behind it?

Imran H Sarker: We have been receiving threats constantly via social media, phone calls or even letters for quite a long time. But last Saturday, I received a threat to my life on Facebook from an account that contains the name ‘Islamic State’ (IS) in it.

The person who sent the message threatened to kill me just like the other two foreigners who were murdered recently. I have checked the account the threat came from.

The people running it are followers of a number of Facebook pages and groups with close ties to Islamic State. The account appears to be closely linked to this terrorist group.

You have received threats before. Why have you reported the matter to the police this time?

These threats can no longer be ignored seeing as

these people murdered four of my fellow bloggers

this year. Moreover, two foreigners were killed in Dhaka just recently. Following the recent developments, I can’t ignore the latest threat and assume it is a fake.

Rather, I think it’s wise to take action right after a threat has been made. The law enforcement agencies have recommended that I file a complaint and ask for protection as it would help them to investigate the matter.

I have filed the complaint in the hope that the government will act strongly to stop the threats and killings.

Have you received any protection from the police after lodging the complaint?

The police haven’t decided anything about providing security as yet. However, they assured me that they would try their best to trace the person behind the Facebook account that was used to threaten me.

Why are bloggers and foreigners being targeted in Bangladesh?

Right after the killing of blogger Avijit Roy in February this year, we said that it was an attempt to destabilize the country. We feared then that bloggers would not be the only targets for these murderous attacks. If the authorities did nothing to stop the attacks, others including intellectuals and foreigners would be targeted as well.

Bangladesch Blogger Imran H Sarker

Blogger Imran H Sarker

However, the government did not take adequate measures to stop the killings back then. As a result, four bloggers were killed within six months. And the real killers remained at large.

Instead of arresting them, the police pointed out that those murdered were bloggers and atheists. These comments implied indirect support for the murderers. In my opinion, the government has failed to protect its citizens from the killers.

Do you think the so-called ‘Islamic State’ is operating in Bangladesh?

Some Islamist groups who share Islamic State ideology, are now operating in Bangladesh. They follow a strictly orthodox form of Islam called Wahhabism and kill people who have different views.

We should note that not only the bloggers and foreigners have been murdered but also some followers of Sufism, locally known as followers of a 'Pir,' who reject Wahhabism, have also been attacked and killed recently. So, even if IS is not operating in the country, small groups linked to them are active.

One of the Islamist groups that openly supports IS, Hefazat-e-Islam, demanded the death penalty for secular bloggers back in 2013. The group tried to destabilize the country through massive street protests.

The ruling government, however, didn’t take any strict action against the group. Instead, the government has allegedly been trying to maintain good relations with the group by offering it financial support and allocating government owned lands to it. Just how close relations are between the government and the group is not yet clear.

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