A BANGLADESHI blogger is in Washington, U.S. this week to highlight persecution and vigilantism that is often meted out against liberals and religious minorities in his home country.
Ashif Entaz Rabi, who is also a social activist, had faced death threats after hosting a TV talk show about the slaying of a publisher by Islamic extremists.
After seeking help from Bangladeshi authorities, Ashif was told that they couldn’t protect him. Instead, they told him to take care of himself, and to portray Islam and the government in a positive light.
Now the 37-year-old Rabi is in the U.S. capital calling attention to the dozens of writers and bloggers who fear they could be the next victim of a wave of savage attacks against minorities in Bangladesh. The violence has had a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the traditionally moderate Muslim nation.
Tuesday marks World Press Freedom Day, and rights groups are calling for a U.N.-backed inquiry into the killings.
According to the recently-released Freedom House’s 2016 Freedom of the Press Index, Bangladesh was accorded a ‘Not Free’ status with a score of 61 out of 100. Globally, the country was ranked 134th out of 199 countries.
Rabi attended the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner over the weekend, and is due today to meet top State Department envoy on human rights, Tom Malinowski, to discuss the deteriorating climate of tolerance in Bangladesh. He is also seeking to find a way to secure sanctuary in the U.S. for himself and his immediate family.
“It’s better that the international community do something rather than just make statements. It’s no use just issuing letters, as the prime minister [of Bangladesh] does not care,” Rabi told The Associated Press on Monday.
Late last month, insurgent group Ansar-al Islam, a banned Bangladeshi branch of al-Qaida on the Indian subcontinent, claimed responsibility for the murders of a gay rights activist and his friend in the capital, Dhaka.
The group said in a Twitter message that its members targeted Xulhaz Mannan, editor of Bangladesh’s only gay rights magazine, Roopbaan, and his friend Tanay Majumder.
It said the two were killed on April 26 because they were “pioneers of practicing and promoting homosexuality in Bangladesh” and were “working day and night to promote homosexuality.”
Mannan also worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Despite Ashif’s assertions, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had vowed to hunt down and prosecute those who fatally stabbed two men.
Hasina accused the country’s opposition party and allied militants of orchestrating the killings, but the opposition has denied the allegations.
The killings were part of an ongoing wave of attacks claimed by radical Islamists and targeting the country’s outspoken atheists, moderates and foreigners.
Additional reporting by Associated Press