Mishu Dhar

PEN International on Sweden’s refusal of asylum to a Bangladeshi blogger facing death threats:

PEN International, the world association of writers representing members in over 100 countries, has learned with alarm about the imminent deportation of Bangladeshi blogger Mishu Dhar, whose final application for asylum in Sweden was rejected by the Swedish Migration Agency on 17 February 2017. The decision is based on the argument that the authorities in Bangladesh are ”willing and able” to protect Mishu Dhar’s security if he should return.

Mishu Dhar has been blogging under the pseudonym #JuliyasCaesar since June 2013. He publishes his writings online on Facebook and Dhormockery (a satirical website about atheism which extremists have been campaigning for the Bangladesh authorities to ban since 2013). He left Bangladesh on a student visa in 2015, after being threatened by Islamists over a long period of time, and physically attacked the previous summer. Since leaving the country, he has written under his own name, and has continued receiving threats via social media. His identity is now known, placing him at greater risk of attack in Bangladesh.

Dhar’s writings have focused on tackling communal violence, land-grabbing, discrimination of minorities and rape of indigenous girls and women in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. He has also promoted freedom of expression and secularism in his writings, and has been an outspoken critic of government policies and its lack of action in tackling extremism.

It’s grotesque for Sweden (or anyone) to claim the authorities in Bangladesh are ”willing and able” to protect Mishu Dhar’s security when we know very well they are neither.

Since 2013, secular, free-thinking, and rationalist writers and publishers have been the target of intimidation and violence in Bangladesh. Eight writers and publishers have been murdered, and several more have suffered grave injuries. PEN International has raised this issue in many fora, including the Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2016.

The response of the Bangladeshi government and authorities has been inadequate. While they have made a few arrests in some cases, most remain unresolved. The government has not taken meaningful steps to prevent further acts of violence, such as protecting people who are being threatened by extremists. Instead of upholding the right to freedom of expression including on religious issues, political leaders have warned writers not to provoke religious sentiments. When some threatened bloggers have complained to the authorities, they have been told to lie low, to write on non-political and non-religious subjects, or to ”go abroad”.

Mishu Dhar has well-founded reasons to believe that he may face violence, or be killed, were he to return to Bangladesh. It is highly unlikely that he would receive police protection against the death threats to which he has been subjected, and furthermore there are credible concerns of collusion between the police and certain Islamist groups which further erodes trust in the police.

’The Swedish Migration Agency appears to have confused the presence of state institutions with their functional effectiveness in Bangladesh’, said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.  ’Indeed, Bangladesh has a parliament, courts, police, and a constitution that protects freedom of expression with ‘reasonable’ limits placed on them. But its record in protecting human rights – of journalists, bloggers, writers, sexual minorities, and human rights defenders is appalling. The state, through acts of commission and omission, has failed to protect individuals who wish to speak freely, and the devastating consequence has been eight deaths of bloggers and writers since 2013. While Bangladesh has cracked down on fundamentalists after the the terrorist attack at a bakery last year, and this week arrested an absconding convict who had killed blogger Rajib Haider in 2013, those are actions taken after the heinous acts have already occurred. To view such an environment as normal and capable of protecting freedom of expression, as the Migration Agency has done, is shocking.’ 

In December 2016, the Swedish government presented a report to Parliament concerning Human rights, democracy and the principles of rule of law in Swedish foreign policy. In the report, the murders of secular bloggers in Bangladesh are mentioned as an example of religiously motivated violations of human rights. While the government, through the Foreign Ministry, points at this issue as a problem which Swedish foreign policy should address, another government agency, namely the Migration Agency, decides to send a secular blogger back to the country where his human rights are likely to be violated.

’The Swedish Migration Agency’s decision is deeply disappointing’, said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International. ’The assumption the Agency has made – that authorities in Bangladesh are capable of providing security to Mishu Dhar – flies in the face of recent evidence.  There have been assassinations in recent years, including that of Ananta Bijoy Das, whose visa application was turned down by Swedish authorities; physical threats, intimidation, and warnings from fundamentalists, as well as ‘advice’ from Bangladeshi authorities to bloggers to write on safer topics and not offend religious sentiment. There have also been statements from the highest levels of the ruling party that atheist bloggers and writers should be careful about what they write. On what basis does the Migration Agency believe Mishu Dhar would be safe in Bangladesh? In rejecting his application, the Agency is failing to live up to the ideals of Swedish society, the spirit of its constitution, the rationale of international law, and the expectations of everyone who cares for freedom of expression.’     

For further information please contact Cathy McCann at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, 162-164 Abbey Street, London SE1 2AN |Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338 |Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 |Email: Cathy.McCann@pen-international.org

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