On April 4, CFI Canada Board Chair Kevin Smith and National Director Michael Payton met with Andrew Bennett, the Ambassador for Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom. At the meeting CFI got a commitment from the Ambassador that the ORF will support and protect the rights of all people to question, change and even leave their religion. Today, concerned about the fate of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh, CFI sent the following letter to Ambassador Bennett urging him to send a formal protest to the Bangladeshi government on behalf of the persecuted bloggers:
Dear Ambassador Bennett:
Thank you for the very productive meeting last week. CFI is pleased to be working with the Office of Religious Freedom as it addresses the issues affecting religious and non-religious people around the world.
During our meeting on April 4, we discussed the increasing tensions in Bangladesh affecting atheist bloggers. In January 2013, a 29 year old blogger, Asif Mohiuddin, was stabbed to death in Bangladesh. In February, a second blogger, 35 year old Ahmed Rajib, was attacked and brutally killed. The violence against atheist bloggers continues. In March, Islamists continued to threaten prominent bloggers and have called for the “execution of 84 atheist bloggers for insulting religion.” Rather than defend freedom of expression, religion and belief, the Bangladeshi government has arrested several bloggers for “hurting religious sentiments,” under Section 295A of the Bangladesh Penal Code. Home Minister M.K. Alamgir recently announced that the government has a list of seven more bloggers who will also soon be targeted. On April 11, a newspaper editor was arrested for printing quotations from the targeted bloggers.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of protesters belonging to the radical group Islami Andolan Bangladesh have rallied in the country’s capital, Dhaka, for even tougher blasphemy laws and more arrests. They have threatened increased violence if their demands are not met by April 25.
We would like the Office of Religious Freedom, in keeping with its commitment to Human Rights, to act swiftly and send a formal protest to the Bangladeshi government referencing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 18 and 19, which guarantee every individual the right to freedom of belief, religion, and expression. Bangladesh is a signatory to this convention, as is Canada. This is the time, before the crisis worsens, for the Office of Religious Freedom to remind the Bangladesh government to honor its obligations to its own citizens and the international community. We urge you to suggest that the Foreign Minister issue a similar reminder. As signatory to the Covenant, not only should the government of Bangladesh reject new blasphemy laws, it should also repeal its current law against “hurting religious sentiments” and end proceedings against bloggers for criticizing religious ideas.
Thank you for your immediate attention to this letter. Please do not hesitate to contact us.