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Opinion

Opinion: A serious threat to Bangladesh's existence

First it was the bloggers, now it's the publishers who have come under attack. Bangladesh, a nation based on secular values and democratic freedoms, is facing a disturbing existential crisis, writes DW's Debarati Guha.

There is no doubt that Bangladesh is slowly but surely becoming an extremely dangerous place for those who believe in freedom of expression and scientific reasoning. The two attacks on Saturday, October 31, which left one killed and three seriously injured, make it even clearer that the threats posed by extremism and militancy have already found a solid base in Bangladesh.

Unknown assailants hacked to death Faisal Arefin Dipan of Jagriti Prokashoni publishing house, and critically injured Ahmedur Rashid Tutul of Shuddhoswar, both publishers of the work of slain writer Avijit Roy. The attackers also targeted two more secular and free-thinking bloggers, Tareq and Ranadipam.

This leaves no room for doubt as to the mindset of the perpetrators and their motive for the killings. The militants have made it abundantly clear that they are playing for keeps and that they are in it for the long haul.

Deutsche Welle Debarati Guha vorläufiges Kommentar App Bild

DW's Debarati Guha

It is not hard to guess that the perpetrators must have been Islamist militants determined to strike yet another blow against Bangladesh's proud history of secularism and free thought. This is the latest in a long line of efforts to silence secular voices and strike terror into the heart of this striving nation.

The question is: can one remain complacent in the face of this threat?

Those who can answer this question are not paying heed. I register only silence coming from a government which denies security and takes no responsibility neither before nor after such indiscriminate attacks and killings.

The Awami League, the ruling party in Bangladesh, was and still is absent at all demonstrations calling on the government to do more to protect the country's secular bloggers. Is the government not responsible for providing security in the country? Do they, along with law enforcement authorities, wish to see Bangladesh go down the dark path to militancy and theocracy?

I call upon the Prime Minister to answer these questions, as others have done before me, though the outcry does not seem to have reached Sheikh Hasina's ears.

And while the heartbroken father of Dipan, Professor Abdul Kashem Fazlul Haque, says he sees no point in seeking justice, Awami League leader Mahbubul Alam Hanif alleges, in turn, that the father might believe in the ideology of his son's killers.

It is not only Dipan's bereaved father, but also the wife of murdered blogger Avijit Roy - Rafida Ahmed Bonya - who says she does not seek justice for the murder of bloggers and publishers.

In Bonya's words, "I am sure (the) Bangladeshi government will still say that there is no hint of Islamic terrorism in the country!"

I can only shake my head in disbelief as PM Hasina denies the presence of "Islamic State" (IS) in Bangladesh and blames the opposition for all kinds of fundamentalist tendencies, which have led to the killing of two foreigners in the past five weeks. Bangladesh may or may not have a specific IS problem, but it certainly carries the seed of Islamic extremism, if only under other names.

My disbelief only increases when faced with claims by Ansarullah Bangla Team, a local Islamist group, that they are responsible for the attacks on Dipan and Tutul. As the Islamists claimed in a tweet, the two were paying the price for having published the books of Avijit Roy, which were "blasphemous" and "dishonored" Prophet Muhammad.

First the bloggers and now the publishers - it seems no one is safe in Bangladesh, no one can write freely, and others cannot publish what they write. Atheism remains a big taboo, the breaking of which can cost one's life.

Whether the Prime Minister agrees or not, these attacks along with the ongoing threats to bloggers and writers deserve be taken seriously and tackled with the utmost urgency and care.

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