Wednesday 26 July 2017

Freedom of speech under attack around the world

A blogger advocating secularism is murdered in Bangladesh, while Thailand declines entry to a boatload of trafficked migrants, including children

A Bangladeshi boy holds a placard and sits on a cart during a protest against the killing of blogger and author Ananta Bijoy Das, in Dhaka, Bangladesh
A Bangladeshi boy holds a placard and sits on a cart during a protest against the killing of blogger and author Ananta Bijoy Das, in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

A blogger was hacked to death by machete-wielding attackers in Bangladesh on Tuesday, the third killing of an online critic of religious extremism in the Muslim-majority nation in less than three months.

Ananta Bijoy Das, a blogger who advocated secularism, was attacked by four masked assailants in the north-eastern district of Sylhet on Tuesday morning. He was a 33-year-old banker.

Das was also editor of science magazine Jukti, which means "logic," and on the advisory board of "Mukto Mona" (Free Mind), a website propagating rationalism and opposing fundamentalism that was founded by US-based blogger Avijit Roy.

Roy himself was hacked to death in February while returning home with his wife from a Dhaka book fair.

Roy's widow, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, was maimed in the attack and is in hiding in the United States.

More than 120 people have died in violent anti-government protests this year and thousands of opposition activists have been arrested.

Militants have targeted secularist writers in Bangladesh in recent years.

On March 30, Washiqur Rahman, another secular blogger who aired his outrage over Roy's death on social media, was killed in similar fashion in the capital, Dhaka.

The United States vowed on Tuesday to "work tirelessly" to bring home missing American journalist Austin Tice, who disappeared in Syria in 2012, and appealed to his captors to free him.

In a statement marking Tice's 1,000th day in captivity, White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan called on governments and individuals with information about his whereabouts to "work cooperatively with us to help bring him home". Meehan said US officials "strongly urge Austin's captors to release him".

The wife of a Myanmar journalist who was killed in military custody said on Tuesday she hopes a civilian court can provide justice after an army court martial acquitted two soldiers accused in connection with the death.

Than Dar has called for a transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of her husband, Par Gyi, whom she suspects was tortured.

The case triggered calls from the United States from and rights groups in Myanmar and abroad for an inquiry. Myanmar's government ordered the National Human Rights Commission to investigate.

The commission in turn recommended that the case be tried in a civilian court.

"The judges from civilian court told me yesterday that there was no influence from the military court on them," she said. "So I think the court might bring justice in my husband's case."

Par Gyi was killed in army custody in October, five days after being arrested following a photo assignment documenting clashes between the military and the rebel Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, the Myanmar-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said.

Zambian police said they had questioned two journalists at a newspaper that published a story illegally drawn from classified documents about a graft investigation of a presidential aide, who was subsequently cleared.

The Post newspaper, which employs the journalists, said the affair demonstrated the government could not tolerate a free press.

Police spokesman Rae Hamoonga said police had recorded statements from Fred Mmembe, the editor-in-chief of The Post newspaper, and a reporter about publishing a story based on classified information, which is against Zambian law.

Twelve soldiers who backed an attempted coup in Burundi against President Pierre Nkurunziza were killed in fierce fighting on Thursday when they tried to seize state radio, a top army officer said, a day after the battle in the capital.

Giving the first death toll for the fight to control the state broadcaster, Army Chief of Staff General Prime Niyongabo told state radio that 35 other "mutineers" were wounded and 40 more surrendered. He said four loyal troops were wounded.

Thousands of migrants adrift in Southeast Asian seas have nowhere to go after Thailand declined permission for a boat to land on Thursday and Malaysia said it would push boat people back out to sea.

Smugglers have abandoned ships full of migrants, many of them hungry and sick, following a crackdown on human trafficking in Thailand, the most common first destination for Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Thailand would not permit a boat with 300 migrants - including many women and young children, found drifting in its waters on Thursday - to land, officials said.

"We declined them entry to the country, but we gave them food and water to adhere to our human rights obligations," regional police official Major General Puttichat Akhachan said.

The boat was found 17km off the coast of the southern island of Koh Lipe. TV pictures showed crying mothers and young children pleading for help.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR has warned the situation could develop into a "massive humanitarian disaster" and has said governments should rescue the boat people rather than send them on their way.

Many of the arrivals are Rohingya, a stateless people described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

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