We address you this open letter, alarmed at the treatment of our fellow humanist and defender of human rights Ms. Taslima Nasreen, on her return to Bangladesh.
As you know, throughout her 4-year unhappy exile from her home land, Ms. Nasreen constantly spoke of her love for Bangladesh and her people, and of her desire to return home to work for emancipation of women, and to write in her mother tongue Bengali. In the event, Ms. Nasreen returned to Bangladesh displaying unusual courage, and under difficult personal circumstances. Instead of letting her come to terms with her mother’s fatal illness, Muslim fundamentalists in your country are targeting her, and renewing calls for her execution on the absurd plea of blasphemy. Recent press reports of revival of the court case against her under Section 295 A of Bangladesh Penal Code for having “deliberately and maliciously outraged the religious sentiments of a class of citizens”, the issuing of a warrant of arrest against her, and the court order for attachment of her property are deeply disturbing to the international community.
Need one recall that Bangladesh herself took birth thanks to the passionate yearning for freedom among her people, or that your own national language Bengali was the first in which the clarion calls for human freedom were sounded in your part of the world? We cannot forget that poet Tagore sang of freedom of the mind… and that your own father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of the then secular Bangladesh, too has been a victim of religious fanatics, who are now finally being brought to book 25 years after the crime.
Madam Prime Minister: Religious fundamentalism is a menace that needs to be tackled as a high priority, as much in Bangladesh as elsewhere in the world. Ms. Nasreen has every right as a citizen of Bangladesh, and as a member of the world community to speak her mind without fear or favour, and it is her fundamental right to expect the government of Bangladesh to defend these rights.
Madam Prime Minister: we implore you to ensure that your government will honour its sovereign obligations under international conventions, and affirm respect for Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and that of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (18.2: No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice).
We also would like to note that failure to defend and protect Ms. Nasreen would be utter disregard for the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981), and for the most recent Oslo Declaration on the Freedom of Religion or Belief.
Ms. Nasreen is a member of the International Academy of Humanism, an honour she shares with other literary and scientific personalities Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel laureate Herbert Hauptmann and Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann. Ms. Nasreen, along with several distinguished humanists who come from Islamic societies, has been championing the rights of women, and we hope that this will strike a sympathetic cord in your own heart.
Members of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (90 member organisations in 35 countries) who have helped Ms. Nasreen in her previous flight to freedom and who have befriended and welcomed her courage, and passion for the freedoms of women are joining forces to defend her right to have no religion, and her right to express her views. Artists, writers, and champions of human freedom around the world too are rallying together to defend Ms. Nasreen’s freedom of conscience.
But we fervently hope that this would be unnecessary, and that your liberal government will do the needful in the situation. The world which has come to Bangladesh’s aid in every hour of her need, is now awaiting a clear signal from your government that Ms. Nasreen’s freedoms will be protected and that those who launch barbaric calls of her execution will be brought to justice.
Levi Fragell, President, and Babu R R Gogineni, Secretary General