Following a series of fatal assaults on secular bloggers and publishers by extremists in Bangladesh, Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury was attacked by several men in his office in Dhaka in October 2015, scarcely surviving. He fled to Nepal while still under treatment and arrived in Skien City of Refuge in February.
Chowdhury, also called Tutul, is the publisher of the late American-Bangladeshi writer and blogger Avijit Roy and several others secular bloggers hacked to death since 2013 for their open-minded writings. Since the killing of Avijit Roy in the streets of Dakha a year ago, Chowdhury has been living under constant threat.
“The situation for bloggers and other freethinkers in Bangladesh has become increasingly difficult during the past year. ICORN has experienced a massive boom in applications from Bangladeshi bloggers and editors, counting 28 applications within the last 13-14 months. Tutul is one out of two who have been granted a residency in an ICORN city. We are happy that we have been able to offer him a residency, in cooperation with Skien City of Refuge, where he can continue his work in safety.” Says Marianne Hovdan, Programme Officer in ICORN.
Founded magazine and publishing house for free-thinkers
In 1990, Chowdhury started publishing and editing the magazine Shuddhashar, which soon became a platform for young and unconventional writers in Bangladesh. Chowdhury opened his publishing house in Dhaka in 2004, under the same name Shuddhashar, where he printed primarily works of open-minded and progressive writers in his country. In 2013, the publishing house was awarded the Shaheed Munir Chowdhury Award for publishing the highest number of best-sellers in Bangladesh. It is one of the most important publishing houses in Bangladesh.
Publications includes Obishwaser (Philosophy of non-belief) written by the late Avijit Roy and Raihan Abir. Also Parthiba (Nothing is Divine), which is a collection of articles on secularism and rationalism, written by the late Ananta Bijoy Dash and Shoikot Chawdhury. These and other books published by Shuddhashar are seen as blasphemous by Islamic extremists in Bangladesh.
A string of attacks on secular bloggers and free thinkers
One after the other the names of writers and bloggers who have been murdered have appeared in the media: Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Dash, Niloy Chakrabarti, and Roy’s publisher Faisal Avefin Dipan. In the course of the year, these people have all been killed, often hacked to death, by religious fanatics who have aimed to silence them and to stop them from pursuing an open intellectual debate. The murders of Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Dash made headlines in world media, but many others have been assaulted and yet others are living under constant threat for their lives. Assassination lists of secular bloggers are circulating on the web—those who are still alive are meant to be intimidated by these killings, and thereby to be silenced.
Continues the struggle for freedom of expression from refuge
Unlike his colleagues, Tutul was lucky to survive the attack at his office in Dhaka that afternoon in October, after falling between a table and a chair, a niche that offered him some protection from the blows. From his refuge, he will continue his fight for free speech in Bangladesh. He says:
“At present Bangladesh, in the case of free thinking and publishing, the lives of Bloggers, Writers and Publishers are full of uncertainty. They don't know when they will be attacked by the Islamic fundamentalists or when they will be under the Government's wrath.
The main thing about Freedom of Speech is the change of people's thinking and mentality. It's also one of our duties to remove the rules made by the government, which is against freedom of speech. For this we have to create more awareness. The ancient weapon of awareness is writing. And if there's no fear of physical attack, then one can fight in this war of writing from any place of this world."
Earlier this month, Tutul gave a speech at the UN summit Human Rights Defenders in Asia: Protection in Practice in Geneva. He will speak about his own situation and the conditions of bloggers and publishers in Bangladesh at the Cities for Freedom: ICORN General Assembly and 10 years Anniversary coming up in Paris in March/April. In April, Chowdhury will join the Freedom to publish panel at the 31st International Publishers Congress, in London, together with acclaimed Turkish author Elif Shafak and award-winning essayist and novelist John Ralston Saul, the former president of PEN International. The panel is called called New Censors – Publishing in a Time of Fear.
Read more about what is going on in Bangladesh in the 19th edition of the Dissident Blog dedicated to the situation in Bangladesh, with contributions by writers and artists in ICORN residencies; blogger Ratan K Samadder, poet Anisur Rahman, and cartoonist Arifur Rahman.
Media coverage following the attack
The Guardian, October 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/31/faisal-abedin-deepan-bangladesh-secular-publisher-hacked-to-death
New York Times, January 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/magazine/the-price-of-secularism-in-bangladesh.html?_r=2