This Article is From Jun 22, 2015

Blogging in the Shadow of Death in Bangladesh

Dhaka: Blogging is today one of the most dangerous professions - or passions - in Bangladesh. In less than three months, between 26 February and 12 May, three bloggers were hacked to death, plunging fellow bloggers into a state of fear. Some have quit their jobs, one carries a gun and yet another wears a helmet every time he steps out of the house.

"My life is unsafe. Anyone can attack me anytime. They want to cut my head off. So whenever I go out, I wear a helmet," said 25-year-old Dhaka-based blogger Ananya Azad. On May 22, he got a message on Facebook saying his body would be chopped up and hung from a statue near Dhaka University, exactly where his late father, writer Humayun Azad, was attacked 11 years ago.

More recent threats came from an outfit called Ansar Al Islam. A team of German journalists researching the threats against bloggers found a Ansar website where a question was prominently positioned, "Who Next?" On it, mug shots of murdered bloggers and Ananya's face ominously crossed out.

"I think they are dangerous. Whoever Ansarul Bangla has targeted, they have died," said Ananya Azad.

Ananya is not alone. Scores of bloggers are under death threat in Bangladesh. Shariar Kabir, senior writer, filmmaker, free-thinker, carries a gun. "I am supposed to carry a gun. The government has said they will give me a gunman. But I have said, a gunman is not the answer," said Mr Kabir. "Gunmen couldn't save Indira Gandhi or John F Kennedy. The problem must be addressed."

Omi Rehman Pial, 46, and Arif Jebtik, 37, have quit their jobs because of threats to their lives. A job would have meant a routine which the blogger killers could follow and attack at an opportune moment. That has been their modus operandi. Both their wives work and they manage financially somehow but their personal lives are in turmoil.

Pial's six-year-old daughter, for instance, had to drop a school year because her school received a threat that it would be bombed because she studied there. The principal called Pial to inform him about the threat. "He didn't say my daughter should leave but I said the people who threatened, they are lunatics, they can do anything. I did not want to risk the lives of all the children. So my daughter dropped out for a year. She also changed schools but where she is studying is a secret," said Pial.

Is the government doing enough to protect bloggers? No, say most. "The government is arresting some marginal militants or small fries. But when they go to court they get the bail. The laws need to be changed, there should be special courts for such case," said Shariar Kabir.

Arif Jebtik and Azad point to another dynamic at play. Most bloggers are labeled atheists and feel the government does not want to be seen as taking the side of atheists. "The opposition, especially Jamaat-e- Islami and BNP, are trying to color this government as an atheist government and that is hampering their image in rural areas where most of our people are Islam loving people," said Jebtik.

Have they ever thought they should stop blogging to save their lives? "No way," says Arif Jebtik. "We believe we are the last line of defence between radicals and war criminals and progressive Bangladesh. We are the new generation and it is our duty to uphold what we inherited from our elders and pass it on to the youth. If we stop writing, they will be frustrated and so will we."

Omi Rehman Pial is ready for the worst. "In a war, you either live or die. This is war," he says.

Where the mind is without fear - famous words by Rabindra Nath Tagore held in high esteem on both sides of the border. But the bloggers of Bangladesh are paying a very high price to live by those words.