Bangladesh should drop spurious charges against blogger Asad Noor

Noor is being targeted under Bangladesh's de facto blasphemy law 

  • post Type / Action Alert - Live
  • Date / 4 August 2020

Police in Bangladesh are seeking to arrest human rights activist and secular blogger Asaduzzaman Noor, also known as Asad Noor,  after new criminal charges were brought against him on July 14 for ‘spreading rumours’ and ‘defaming Islam’ via a Facebook video.

In the video in question, Noor speaks in support of a Buddhist monk who has been critical of the government for its decision to illegally appropriate a Buddhist temple in Chittagong. He also defends a pro-LGBTI educational platform, in a country where it remains illegal to be LGBTI. 

The Digital Security Act 2018 (DSA) under which Noor was charged acts as a de facto blasphemy law and is used by the Bangladeshi government as a draconian tool to curb freedom of expression and silence its critics. In 2020 alone, individuals accused under the Act have been arbitrarily arrested, forcibly disappeared, held in pretrial detention for indefinite periods and in some cases, tortured. 

Noor has previously been targeted under the DSA’s predecessor, the 2013 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act. In January 2017, the then 25-year old was arrested at Dhaka airport and charged with defamation of religion for content he had posted on social media. Though released briefly on bail in August 2018, he was subsequently re-arrested after a radical Islamic organization known as Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh called for him to be imprisoned and subjected to the death penalty. He was only released from prison again in January 2019. These charges against him remain outstanding. 

Police threaten Noor’s family 

While Noor remains in hiding due to the threats on his life by Muslim fundamentalists, his family in Bangladesh have become a target for harassment by the authorities. In the days after his video was posted, police went to the Noor family home, abducted several members of his family, including his elderly parents, and detained them for 48 hours without charge. Given the history of vigilante violence in Bangladesh, Humanists International is concerned that Noor’s family remain at risk of intimidation from the police as well as from followers of radical Islam seeking to exact revenge on Noor. 

A history of violence in Bangladesh 

Between 2013 and 2016, Bangladesh experienced a wave of violence against bloggers, atheists, and secular intellectuals, which later extended to aid workers, minority religions and Muslims who opposed the ideology of extremist Islam. At least 30 people were murdered over this period, some even in broad daylight at the hands of men wielding machetes and knives. 

The threat of violence still casts a long shadow over the lives of many humanists, atheists and freethinkers living in Bangladesh today. The Bangladeshi government did little at the time to bring those who participated in the murders to justice, and in some cases even blamed the victims themselves. It has since been using legal tools at its disposal to continue to persecute those who express views that differ from its own. 

Noor is a peaceful activist who is being targeted by the government in breach of his right of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief.

Humanists International calls on the Bangladeshi authorities to drop all charges against Noor under the abusive DSA and the ICT Act, and to end its illegal campaign of harassment and intimidation against Asad’s family members in breach of their basic human rights. 

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