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Bangladesh: Islamist Attacks Continue to Rise Amid Mixed Government Response
A Bangladeshi student holds a portrait of a University Professor A.F.M. Rezaul Karim Siddique during a protest against his killing in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Associated Press)
This week’s snapshot focuses on the growing number of attacks targeting secularist writers, bloggers, and publishers in Bangladesh that are suspected to be perpetrated by Islamist extremists. The attacks have taken place at a time of growing tension between Bangladeshi secularists and Islamists regarding the relation of Islam and state. Some observers have criticized the ruling Awami League government of the Muslim-majority nation for its responses to the attacks, which have included charging and jailing some of the secularist bloggers for defaming religious groups. The government has also in recent months increased pressure on opposition parties under the umbrella of anti-corruption and anti-militant measures.
News summary of events during the week of 16MAY16 – 23MAY16
- 16MAY: Bangladesh police arrested opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Joint Secretary General Aslam Chowdhury for allegedly meeting wih an Israeli political adviser in India in MAR16. (AFP)
- 17MAY: Police arrested four members of a banned militant group, including a regional commander, suspected in the killing last month of a university professor in the northwestern city of Rajshahi. (AP)
- 18MAY: US State Department Spokesman John Kirby said the US has “real concerns” about human rights and religious freedom violations in Bangladesh. (PTI)
- 19MAY: The Bangladeshi government reinstated headmaster Shyamal Kanti Bhakt, a Hindu who was sacked after being publicly humiliated over allegations that he insulted Islam. (BBC)
- 19MAY: Thousands of teachers took to the streets across the country to protest against a lawmaker’s punishment of headmaster Shyamal Kanti Bhakt, who was falsely accused of insulting Islam, after the incident went viral on social media. (AFP)
- 19MAY: Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) announced a cash reward of nearly 2 million taka (USD25,400) to anyone giving information leading to the arrest of six militants. (Xinhua)
- 20MAY: Machete-wielding assailants killed homeopathic doctor Sanaur Rahman and critically wounded his friend and Professor of Literature Saifuzzaman as they rode a motorcycle. (NYT)
- 20MAY: The Bangladeshi government issued “a red alert” at its borders to stop six alleged militants from fleeing the country. (Xinhua)
- 20MAY: According to the US-based monitoring group SITE, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the murder of Dr. Rahman. (AFP)
- 21MAY: PM Sheikh Hasina linked the killing of Dr. Rahman and the the string of similar murders to upcoming war crimes trials and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. (The Hindu)
- 22MAY: Amir Hussain Amu, an influential member of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s cabinet, said the government ruled out Islamic State group links to 37 recent murders of intellectuals and activists, accusing local groups instead. (Xinhua)
- 23MAY: Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said that Bangladesh would cooperate with the US on fighting terrorism. (Dhaka Tribune)
- 23MAY: Protesters burned an effigy of Jatiya Party MP Salim Osman for his role in harassing Hindu teacher Shyamal Kanti Bhakt on 13MAY. (Bangladesh News 24)
Sample of Twitter handles tweeting about the targeted attacks
- @hrcbm – HRCBM Moderator, Human Rights Congress for Bangladesh Minorities and Consultant to the UN
- @ChitraSD – Chitra Subramaniam, Journalist and former UN Diplomat
- @Celikmehmet0 – Mehmet Çelik, Journalist and Analyst
- @AQpk – Ahmed Quraishi, Political Commentator and Activist
- @MsJulieLenarz – Julie Lenarz, Executive Director of the Human Security Centre
Sample of Third Party Validators regarding the targeted attacks
Lisa Curtis, South Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center
“We’ve always thought of Bangladesh as an example of a Muslim country with a functioning democracy, where women participate in governance, and the full range of political and human rights are broadly respected and freedoms are expressed…But now we see the threats to that foundation clearly growing as Islamist extremists try to change the orientation of Bangladeshi society and try to Islamicize the complexion of the country.”
“Bangladesh terror attacks target culture of tolerance,” Christian Science Monitor, 28APR16
Champa Patel, Interim Director, South Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific Regional Offices at Amnesty International
“It is shocking that no one has been held to account for these horrific attacks and that almost no protection has been given to threatened members of civil society.”
- “Bangladesh’s pluralism is at risk if Sheikh Hasina does not stop extremists,” The Guardian, 26APR16
Srinath Raghavan, Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research (New Delhi); Author of 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh
“What seems to be clear is that the government’s own stance on these issues has also emboldened [the extremists].”
- “Here’s What You Need to Know About Growing Extremist Violence in Bangladesh,” Time, 29APR16
- Binodkumar Singh, Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management
“Indeed, their roots can be traced back to the genocide of 1971 when the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and its terrorist activists in groups such as Al-Shams and Al-Badar were involved in the systematic slaughter of nationalist intellectuals, activists, writers and academics in Bangladesh.”
- “Bangladesh: Extremist Spike – Analysis,” Eurasia Review, 03MAY16
Shahanur Islam, General Secretary and Executive Director, Bangladesh Institute for Human Rights (BIHR)
“There is so much hatred against us that we fear they will go after our parents and brothers and sisters.”
- “Militant attacks force Bangladesh’s gay community into hiding,” Reuters, 18MAY2016
Sample of open source research conducted by TRG analysts related to the targeted attacks
- Militant attacks force Bangladesh’s gay community into hiding
Byline: Sanjeev Miglani
Date: 18 May 2016
Weeks after suspected Islamist militants hacked Bangladesh’s most prominent gay rights activist to death in his apartment along with an associate, another friend received a chilling message that he was next in line.
“Say your prayers, confess to God for your sins. Eat or drink whatever you wish to, nobody can save you,” read the handwritten letter, delivered to his home in Dhaka.
- Fear stalks campus after Bangladesh professor’s murder
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 18 May 2016
Rajshahi, Bangladesh, May 18, 2016 (AFP) – Days after his colleague was butchered by Islamist extremists at their university in Bangladesh, Mahbub Alam answered a call from a mystery number that made his blood run cold.
“The person on the other side of the line said to me: ‘Your life has come to an end. You’ve gone too far. Wait and see what happens to you.’,” said Alam, a professor of public administration at Rajshahi University.
- OPINION: The Real Source of Terror in Bangladesh
Media: New York Times
Byline: William B. Milam
Date: 19 May 2016
NOTES: William B. Milam is a senior policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington and a former U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Last weekend a Buddhist monk was hacked to death, presumably with a machete, in southeastern Bangladesh. The week before, it was a Sufi Muslim leader, up north. Less than two weeks earlier, it was an L.G.B.T. activist. Just days before that, an English professor.
Some of these attacks have not yet been claimed, but they follow a gruesome pattern: There have been at least 25 violent, sometimes public, killings of religious minorities, secularists and free-speech advocates in Bangladesh since February 2015. A dozen more people have been assaulted in similar ways and survived.
- Homeopath murdered in Bangladesh machete attack
Date: 20 May 2016
Attackers wielding machetes have killed a village doctor and wounded his friend, a university tutor, in western Bangladesh, police say.
Mir Sanwar Rahman, known for offering villagers free homeopathic medicines, was hacked to death early on Friday in Kushia district.
- IS claims killing of doctor in Bangladesh: SITE
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 20 May 2016
Dhaka, May 20, 2016 (AFP) – The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the murder of a doctor who was hacked to death in western Bangladesh on Friday, according to a US-based monitoring group.
Police said homeopathic doctor Sanaur Rahman, 58, was riding a motorcycle in Kushtia town with his friend Saif uz Zaman on Friday morning when they were attacked by at least three men, who were also on a motorbike.