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Bloggers in Bangladesh, Vietnam Fight for Free Speech


Islamist protesters demand public execution of the country's atheist bloggers, whom they accuse of humiliating and ridiculing Islam, the Koran and Prophet Mohammad, in Chittagong, Bangladesh,in March 2013.

Islamist protesters demand public execution of the country's atheist bloggers, whom they accuse of humiliating and ridiculing Islam, the Koran and Prophet Mohammad, in Chittagong, Bangladesh,in March 2013.

Bloggers in Bangladesh and Vietnam continue to face threats. Twenty Bangladeshi bloggers received death threats last week from an Islamist group.

And an outspoken Vietnamese blogger has come to the United States after the Vietnamese government jailed her. Activists in both countries are demanding rights to free speech.

Bangladeshi Bloggers Face New Threats

An Islamist group in Bangladesh has threatened to kill 20 outspoken Bangladeshi bloggers, writers and activists. They are targeted for criticizing religious extremism.

The militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) issued its latest “hit list” last week. The list names ABT’s targets. Most of the people on the list have left Bangladesh because of continuing threats.

However, some are now fearful that the Islamist group plans to carry out attacks on the writers and bloggers outside the country. The ABT list includes Bangladeshi citizens who have recently moved to Britain, Germany, the United States, Canada and Sweden. The group calls on the Bangladeshi government to take away their citizenship.

In 2013, Islamic extremists created a list of 84 online atheists and called for their public execution. Many of them went into hiding.

In the past two years, five atheist bloggers and five activists who supported them were murdered. ABT has claimed responsibility for killing three of the four bloggers who have been murdered in the last year.

Bangladesh police spokesman Monirul Islam in Dhaka said that more than 12 members of the ABT group have been arrested. Among them is Abul Bashar, the suspected chief of the ABT. He is suspected of murdering American author and blogger Avijit Roy in February.

Mr. Islam told VOA that police have identified most members of ABT who were involved in the recent killings.

“We need some time to arrest them. For operational reasons, we cannot reveal why the arrests are being delayed,” he told VOA.

Mr. Islam said police still need time to confirm the authenticity of the latest hit list.

The bloggers and activists whose names appear on the recent ABT list said they believe they are in danger. Arifur Rahman is an atheist blogger. He lives in London. He told VOA that the list “apparently seeks to create hysteria against us.”

“Although it is not clear if ABT actually issued the list, its circulation over the Internet could jeopardize the lives of some freethinkers,” Mr. Rahman said.

Some Bangladeshi bloggers based in Britain contacted police after the list was published. Media reports say British officials told the bloggers to stay alert and use caution.

Blogger Ananya Azad left Bangladesh for Germany after facing death threats earlier this year. He said he was not surprised to find his name on the recent ABT list.

He told VOA that he does not feel fully safe even in Germany.

“The fundamentalist killers reached Europe, we got the proof earlier,” he said.

“They want me to stop writing. But I am dead sure that in no situation I can stop writing. With my secular and rationalist belief, I shall keep on writing as long as I am alive,” he said.

A Vietnamese blogger is also fighting for freedom of speech.

A freed Vietnamese blogger says she and another blogger plan to take action against Vietnamese officials in international court.

Ta Phong Tan is the author of the blog “Cong Ly v Su That” – Vietnamese for “Justice and Truth.” She arrived in the United States last week after being released early from a 10-year prison sentence in Vietnam.

She told VOA that she and dissident Nguyen Van Hai were wrongfully imprisoned. Vietnam gave her two options: to complete a 10-year prison term or go to the U.S.

Ms. Tan started her blog in 2006. She targeted the government for what she saw as abuses and incompetence. Later, Ms. Tan joined bloggers Nguyen Van Hai and Phan Thanh Hai to form the “Free Vietnamese Journalists Club.”

All three were then arrested on different charges. They were found guilty in the same trial on charges that they “…distorted the truth about State and Party, created anxiety among citizens and supported schemes to overthrow the government."

In 2014, Nguyen Van Hai was released from prison and came to the U.S. Phan Thanh Hai remains jailed in Vietnam.

Activists are welcoming Ms. Tan's release. But journalist and human rights groups continue to criticize the government in Hanoi for limiting rights to free speech.

In 2015, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Vietnam as the sixth-most censored country in the world.

I'm Ashley Thompson.

Do outspoken bloggers or writers in your country face threats? Write to us in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

blogger - n. someone who writes about personal opinions, activities, and experiences on a website

outspoken - adj. talking in a free and honest way about your opinions

atheist - n. a person who believes that God does not exist

circulation - n. going to spreading from one person or place to another

secular - adj. not spiritual : of or relating to the physical world and not the spiritual world

incompetence - n. lack of the ability to do something well

anxiety - n. fear or nervousness about what might happen

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