Humanists at Risk: Sahadat’s Story

“I have received thousands of death threats as a human rights filmmaker and writer”

  • blog Type / Fundraising blog
  • Date / 14 June 2023
  • By / Contributor

Sahadat Russell is an independent filmmaker and secular writer from Bangladesh whose work tackles human rights and social issues. In this blog post, Sahadat shares his experiences of being an atheist in Bangladesh and the difficulties he has faced since being targeted by religious fundamentalists.

Please note, the following blog post contains information and descriptions which some people may find upsetting.

I developed the habit of reading world literature books when I was in school. While reading various books, I was first introduced to the writings of the famous Bangladeshi feminist writer, Taslima Nasreen. Her writings were the first to raise religious questions in me; it was probably 2004.

After that I started reading religious writings of various writers of Bangladesh and abroad. I also read religious books like the Quran, the Bible and the Gita. Many of the rules and instructions in these religious books seemed inhumane to me; mainly Islam’s view of women is what turned me off. I decided that the Quran could never be the word of a creator. If the Creator existed, he could not be so terrible.

After this, I continued to learn more about religion and by 2012 I declared myself an atheist.

Bangladesh is a country where even if you kill or rape, no one will hate you as much as if they find out you are an atheist. You might already know about the killing of bloggers and atheists in Bangladesh? Since 2013, more than 20 atheists have been hacked to death by Islamic groups.

I have received thousands of death threats as a human rights filmmaker and writer. One of my films – Color of Childhood – is about the physical, mental, and sexual abuse of children studying in Madrasha; an Islamic Educational Institution in Bangladesh. This is a regular phenomenon that has been widely reported in national newspapers and TV channels for a long time. After showing this bitter but true fact in my film, the fundamentalist groups started demanding it should be banned. They sent death threats in the comments section of the film on our YouTube channel, on my Facebook page, and they even called and texted my cell phone.

Taking full advantage of being a Muslim majority country, a notable number of Islamist fundamentalist groups are expanding their attacks on secular thoughts. Due to this and the religious propaganda by the Muslim clerics, people do not speak up about the child abuse taking place in Islamic Educational institutions. They said my film dishonored Islam and their religious sentiment. They declared me a non-believer and threatened to kill me.

For this reason, and for the safety of my entire cast and crew, we removed the film from our YouTube Channel after two days of release. However, even after removing it, they continued to search for me and send death threats. My entire family felt vulnerable and feared for my safety. I reported the events to the police in my nearest police station, asking for help with my security. The police filed a report assuming the threats to my life, but they did not take any action.

In July 2020, I went into hiding; I could not go out of the house. I am still in hiding now. Since fundamentalist groups have promoted me as an atheist across the entire country, no one dares to work with me in a film.

I came to know about Humanists International through Bangladeshi atheist blogger Asad Noor. I applied for grant assistance, to help me and my family to survive. I am grateful that the organization was able to help me during the most difficult times of my life. When my wife was pregnant, I was not in a financial position to take her to the hospital during the birth of our child. Humanists International gave me a grant, which made it possible for my child to be born safely. I am especially grateful to Emma. She constantly checked on me and my family like a friend.

In the future, I hope to live in a safe place where I can speak out for human rights and against religious extremism without fear. Where I can work on gay rights. And I can make movies. Because religious extremism is tearing the world apart today and it is vital that we speak up and stand against it.

Thanks to our members and supporters, Humanists International is able to employ a dedicated Humanists at Risk coordinator to support people like Sahadat. However it would not be possible to continue to provide this service without the help of the global humanist community. Please show your solidarity and support with a donation today.

Protect Humanists at Risk

If you believe every humanist should have the right to a life free from persecution, please show your solidarity and support with a donation today. With your support, we can continue to help as many people as possible in the weeks and months ahead.


Good to know

Humanists International is an international NGO founded in 1952 with a track record of success when it comes to supporting people at risk of religious persecution. The money raised by this appeal will be used to support humanists at risk, including the associated campaigning, support and legal costs. Humanists International 2020 is a Scottish (UK) charity no. SC050629. If you would prefer to give by bank transfer or another way, please email [email protected]

Header image credit: Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

WordPress theme developer - whois: Andy White London