Murder of Secular Publisher and Writer Shahzahan-Bachchu an Attack on Free Expression in Bangladesh

The murder of Shahzahan Bachchu, a publisher, writer, and activist known for his support of secularism, is proof that free expression remains under grave threat in Bangladesh, PEN America said in a statement today. 

Bachchu, a writer and outspoken proponent of secular principles, owned the Bishaka Prakashani publishing house, which specialised in publishing poetry, and was a former district general secretary of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, was shot to death by unidentified gunmen on a motorcycles as he sat in a tea-shop in his home village Kakaldi in Munshiganj district on Monday evening. He died instantly, according to news reports. Although no group has claimed responsibility, police officials from the counter-terrorism department are investigating the murder as a possible targeted attack by Islamist extremists. Bachchu had previously received threats from extremist groups due to his outspoken support for secularism.

“The shocking news today of Shahzahan Bachchu’s murder is a grim reminder that the severe threat to individuals who express dissident views in Bangladesh remains unacceptably high,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “We urge authorities to do everything in their power to investigate the killing and bring those responsible to justice, and for the government to state unequivocally that such attacks will not be tolerated. Impunity in such cases only encourages further assaults on free expression.”

Since 2013, religious extremists in Bangladesh have killed more than a dozen secular, atheistic, or non-Muslim writers, bloggers, and activists; in most cases, the government has been slow to respond or even condemn the attacks. In addition, the draconian Information and Communication Technology Act has served only to legitimise these assaults by criminalising the very speech for which these writers face persecution from extremists. Though the government has increased efforts to curb fundamentalist violence, it has done so while concurrently expanded criminal prosecution of blasphemous speech, with dozens of cases filed in the past several years. PEN America has previously condemned the brutal killings of Bangladeshi writers, professors, and activists such as Xulhaz MannanAvijit Roy, and Rezaul Karim Siddique, among others, and continues to work on numerous cases of other writers driven into exile by these threats.

This article was first published on PEN America.



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