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Fundamentalists getting green signals from Bangladesh Govt: Writer accuses

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Mahbub Leelen accuses Bangladesh govt of cooperating with Fundamentalists. Image source: youtube.com

Washington: Authorities in Bangladesh looked the other way as Islamic militants went on a rampage killing secular and atheist writers, says Mahbub Leelen, writer and a publisher, who fled abroad after his colleagues were attacked.

Four writers and a publisher, including an American citizen of Bangladeshi origin, were killed in 2015 by machete-wielding assailants because of their writings that criticized religious extremism.

“Fundamentalists are getting green signals from the government, either directly or indirectly, that if they kill someone, nothing will happen,” said Mahbub Leelen, who left Bangladesh in December.

Leelen, 41, told BenarNews in an interview via Skype that he was seeking asylum in the United States because he could be attacked any time by militants – or arrested by police.

Since 2013, groups including Ansarullah Bangla Team have circulated hit lists of dozens of intellectuals they consider as un-Islamic. Authorities have also arrested secular activists on charges of offending religious sentiment.

Leelen is a writer and co-founder of Shuddhashar Publishing House, a platform for secular thinkers writing in Bengali since 2004. He was not in the office on October 31, 2015 when three of his colleagues were attacked and wounded there by militants.

That same day, in another part of Dhaka, militants killed publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan of the Jagriti Publishing House at his workplace.

It was the fifth and final machete attack of 2015 and it made clear that militants had shifted from targeting individual writers to terrorizing the publishers that mentor them, Leelen said.

No-one has been arrested for the attacks that day, but police subsequently sealed the Shuddhashar offices and showroom in Dhaka, allegedly for security purposes.

Leelen was a close associate of the Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy, who was hacked to death on Feb. 26. Leelen spent time with him on the day that turned out to be his last, joining Roy at the launch of a ground-breaking collection of writings by gay Bangladeshis.

What are your thoughts on the anniversary of Avijit Roy’s death?

Leelen: You will find a lot of people everywhere who know science very well. You will find a lot of people everywhere who can write very well. … You will find a few people who have a scientific attitude toward life, but they might not have writing skills or knowledge of science.

Avijit Roy was a combination of all these three things. He was a man of science. He had a high skill of writing and he had a scientific attitude.

He was also an organizer and mentor to young secular writers.

After one year, it is very hard for me to think about this anniversary. He was not only my friend, he was also the person of whom I could ask any question, I could depend for my personal writing.

Why was Avijit killed?

Leelen: They didn’t attack Avijit Roy for any one of his particular books, I believe. Rather they have attacked him because of Mukto-Mona. He became the organizer of atheist writers and atheist young people, through the Mukto-Mona blog site.

How is it possible that five people were killed in one year?

Leelen: From 2013, the [Bangladesh] government started cooperating with fundamentalists. This is the truth. They amended and prepared a law, the [Information and Communication Technology] Act, to stop secular writings.

In Bangladesh, punishment for attempted murder is two years and is bailable … but [offenses under] the ICT Law are not bailable. Minimum punishment is seven years, maximum is 14 years, and it can happen just from posting a Facebook status. … If someone just notifies a police officer that “OK, that guy posted a Facebook status which really hurt me,” then the police will come and arrest me and take me to prison for seven years.

In 2013, fundamentalists for the first time realized the power of bloggers … then fundamentalists marched in to Dhaka with their demand, and one of them was death penalty for bloggers ….

In the politics of elections, writers are really not effective voters. They talk a lot, but they don’t go cast votes and they don’t go campaign for someone. … But fundamentalists are an organized group, and a vote bank. And so I think the government decided, it is wise to cooperate with them. …

Fundamentalists are getting green signals from the government, either directly or indirectly, that if they kill someone, nothing will happen.

Where were you on October 31?

Leelen: That was a weekend, Saturday, I was at my house … at that time, two writers were [at Shuddhashar’s office] from the morning, Ranadipam Basu and Tareq Rahim, preparing their book. Tutul [publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul] went there around 11 o’clock. I guess those people who were watching Tutul did not notice that some other people were already inside. …

At the same time, in another place, Dipan of Jagriti publishers was killed. He was alone working in his office on that day. We guess that those attacks were at the same time, around midday, by two groups. Dipan died, and somehow, these people survived. …

They locked the door from outside when they left after the attack. Ranadipam Basu realized that he was attacked and going to die, he posted a Facebook status from his mobile, that “we are attacked at Shuddhashar office, Tutul, myself and Tareq.” Instantly friends saw that status, and in 20 to 30 minutes they could be rescued, just because of that Facebook status.

The day after the attack … Tutul sent me a message, “as early as possible, try to leave.” Everyone is saying that fundamentalists now started thinking about closing down publishing houses rather than targeting individual writers, because the number of individual writers is unlimited.

What is the basis of your asylum petition?

Leelen: Fear, from two sides. At any time I can be attacked by a fundamentalist group and at any time I can be arrested by police … this year, they closed down one stall in the Ekushey Book Fair and arrested the publisher, Shamsuzzoha Manik. Shamsuzzoha Manik is a very senior writer, more than 70. He was an activist and a publisher. … They have also arrested the printing press manager. It is an alert to other printing houses: don’t go for printing this type of book.

What has Bangladesh lost over the last year?

Leelen: Its identity as a secular country or a moderate Muslim country – Bangladesh lost that. It is really very hard for me to say that … I also lost that, because when people talk to me, they consider me as a Bangladeshi.

Do you think you will ever go back?

Leelen: I would like to. I not only left my job and two houses; thousands of friends and family are there. People say “I like my country,” but I always say that “my country loves me” … if there is an emergency – I do not have money or something – I’ll not be helpless there.

And I talk, write, and I do my theater work all in Bangla. I’ll not find that anywhere in the world. … When I think and dream, I dream in Bangla. …

I can’t really restart my life. And I’ll not be a native of any [other] land. I might get permission to stay, earn some money to survive … but I’ll not get my life back, and I’ll not be a native. So if I get a chance, obviously then tomorrow, I’ll be there.

What are you doing now?

Leelen: I am now trying to do three things. Continue with my writings … develop Shuddhashar’s e-book publication side … and, with Mukto-Mona, we are trying to develop an archive of books, “Muktannesha.”

Bonya [Rafida Bonya Ahmed, Roy’s widow] already declared that all of Avijit’s books will be free of cost, e-books. Most of them are already uploaded on the Mutko-Mona site, and gradually other books will be converted. So I am working with other volunteers for Mukto-Mona’s archive.

If they stop publication and writing books, then basically they will stop everything. It is not just about a person’s life … because we hold now responsibility for more than 3,000 writers.

If Avijit’s image is stopped, then fundamentalists will realize that they have won. It’s now his spirit. I am working with young groups of people, with bloggers, writers … if we stop, then we’ll fail.

Published with permission from BenarNews

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Facebook Suspending Accounts of Rohingya Activists: Report

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Facebook suspends Rohingya activists accounts
Facebook. Pixabay

Sep 21, 2017: Facebook is reportedly removing posts and suspending accounts of activists who are documenting the “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Daily Beast has reported.

The activists said their accounts are frequently being suspended or taken down and hoped that the social media giant would let them speak the truth.

Myanmar considers the Rohingyas illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, whereas Bangladesh considers them Myanmar citizens.

The Myanmar government does not use the term “Rohingya” and does not recognise the people as an official ethnicity, which means they are denied citizenship and effectively rendered stateless.

“We want Facebook to be a place where people can share responsibly and we work hard to strike the right balance between enabling expression while providing a safe and respectful experience,” Facebook spokesperson Ruchika Budhraja told Daily Beast on Wednesday.

“In response to the situation in Myanmar, we are carefully reviewing content against our Community Standards,” Budhraja added.

Also Read: Melbourne Sikhs join protests in Australia against Rohingya Muslims massacre 

Besides repeatedly disabling his accounts, an activist who uses the name Rahim said Facebook has also removed individual posts he put on the site about Rohingya refugees.

“We removed this content because it doesn’t follow the Facebook Community Standards,” read a message from Facebook.

There are several such examples being reported across Myanmar.

After revealing that fake Russian accounts bought nearly $100,000 of political ads during the 2016 US presidential election campaign on its platform, Facebook has handed over more details to American Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  (IANS)

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UNICEF Calls for Action : 16 Million Children Continue to Suffer as Floods in South Asia Claim More than 1,300 Lives

According to data released by UNICEF, the unusually heavy monsoon over the last several weeks has claimed more than 1,300 lives across India, Nepal and Bangladesh.

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India army soldiers carry children rescued from flood affected villages near Thara in Banaskantha district, Gujarat, India (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki) (VOA)
  • Floods in India, Nepal and Bangladesh have claimed more than 1,300 lives in the last two months
  • According to UNICEF, over 16 million children in the three countries are in urgent need of life-saving support
  • Persistent rainfall has damaged school infrastructure, apart from depriving children of safe places to stay at, and necessities like drinking water and food

New Delhi, September 4, 2017 : Hurricane Harvey created havoc in Houston in August, claiming 15 lives and displacing tens of thousands of people. The event was largely covered by national and international media alike, keeping people abreast with the latest updates. However, the floods in South Asia, which are equally devastating, are yet to receive due coverage from international media. According to data released by UNICEF, the unusually heavy monsoon over the last several weeks has claimed more than 1,300 lives across India, Nepal and Bangladesh.

In its entirety, over 45 million people have suffered the direct impact of the rains and its resulting floods.

Floods in South Asia

For over two months, incessant rains have submerged numerous villages thereby forcing vast numbers of people into evacuation centers and relief camps.

According to a UN Agency report, over 16 million children residing in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh are in dire need of life-saving support due to weeks of torrential monsoons that have given rise to ‘catastrophic’ floods in the three South Asian countries.

UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, Jean Gough noted that millions of children have already been affected by these devastating floods as incessant rains continue to pose potential threat.  “Children have lost their homes, schools, and even friends and loved ones. There is a danger the worst could still be to come as rains continue and flood waters move south,” she added, according to a report by PTI.

According to official figures, at least 1,288 deaths have been reported since mid-August.

Gough believes the persistent rainfall and the resulting water accumulation have damaged school infrastructure among other things which will hamper children from attending classes for weeks, or even months. According to her, “Getting children back into school is absolutely critical in establishing a sense of stability for children during times of crisis and provides a sense of normality when everything else is being turned upside down”

Among other urgent needs of these children are clean drinking water, sufficient food supplies, hygiene supplies to control and combat the spread of potential diseases and safe evacuation places for the children to stay at, study and play.

ALSO READ Thousands displaced in Myanmar due to floods

Devastation from floods in India

According to a report by PTI, in the northern part of the country, over 31 million people have been affected in four states due to the extensive flooding. Out of this, 12.33 million sufferers are believed to be children.

The tally of houses damaged by the floods has reached 805,183 while 15,455 schools have been damaged, that has disrupted the education of children.

Additionally, the heavy downpour in Mumbai has already claimed five deaths due to drowning while twelve people, including two children have died due to the collapse of a building.

ALSO READ Why do buildings collapse?

Rescue operations are being undertaken in these states by their respective state governments, which include carrying out relief, recovery and rehabilitation operations.

Furthermore, the state governments have also sought multi-sectoral planning and coordination support from UNICEF in the three worst affected states. These include Bihar, Assam and Uttar Pradesh.

Devastation from floods in Bangladesh

According to Oxfam, with the rising water levels, the flooding is believed to be the worst since 1988 with nearly two-thirds of the country currently submerged under water.

More than 8 million people are reported to have been hit by the floods in Bangladesh, out of which 3 million are allegedly children. Primary and community educational institutions across the country have been terribly hit with as many as 2,292 schools reportedly damaged by the high water.

The country has also reported over 13,035 cases of water-borne diseases.

Devastation from floods in Nepal

Floods in Nepal have displaced 352,738 people from their homes, thus, affecting over 1.7 million people. The water has reportedly surfaced to dangerous levels, to escape which people are making use of makeshift rafts and elephants for rescue operations.

According to a report by PTI, damage to nearly 1,958 schools has affected the education of over 253,605 children.

Major media giants across the world are pledging their support to help combat the scale of  destruction.

In a blog post, Google Vice-President of South East Asia and India wrote, “We are committing $1 million from Google.org and Google employees to Goonj and Save the Children for their relief efforts.”

The NGO, Goonj aims to offer assistance to over 75,000 affected families across India and provide them with basic needs like food, blankets and hygiene supply while on the other hand, Save the Children is focused on setting up child-friendly public spaces for the children to have access to educational material.

Similar organizations have taken up an active role to help rebuild infrastructure for the community like roads, bridges and physical infrastructures.

What causes floods in South Asia?

Apart from the high magnitude of rainfall received this year, the floods in south Asia are believed to have been aggravated by human actions such as reckless construction on floodplains and in the coastal areas, waterways clogged by garbage and a faulty drainage system

According to a report published by VOA, experts have pointed out the inefficiency of the governments of the three countries and have said that is has become increasingly evident that the South Asian governments were unprepared for the annual monsoon showers.

However, disaster management officials also assert that it will be unfair to criticize the governments in view of the magnitude of the floods this year.


 

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Myanmar violence: In Rakhine state of Myanmar houses have burned and around 400 people have died

The United Nations says at least 38,000 people have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh, most of them are Rohingya

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A group of Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy road after traveling over the Bangladesh-Myanmar border
A group of Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy road after traveling over the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. VOA
  • Thousands of people have fled their villages and sought shelter in temples, schools, and mosques in other Rakhine town
  • Volunteers were struggling to find food for the displaced
  • Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be migrants from Bangladesh and not one of the country’s many ethnic minority groups

Rakhine, Myanmar, September 3, 2017:  About 400 people have died in violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state over the past week, military officials say, almost all of them Muslim insurgents.

A military Facebook page reported the numbers, saying 370 were insurgents, and 29 killed were either police or civilians.

Members of the minority Rohingya Muslim community, however, have reported attacks on their villages that left scores dead and forced thousands to flee.

Human Rights Watch said Saturday that satellite imagery recorded Thursday in the Rohingya Muslim village of Chein Khar Li in Rathedaung township shows the destruction of 700 buildings. The rights group says 99 percent of the village was destroyed and the damage signatures are consistent with fire, including the presence of large burn scars and destroyed tree cover.

“Yet this is only one of 17 sites that we’ve located where burnings have taken place,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.

The United Nations says at least 38,000 people have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh, most of them Rohingya. Community leaders in Bangladesh have told VOA that some Hindus, also a minority in Myanmar, have crossed the border.

Robertson said the U.N.’s Fact Finding Mission should get the “full cooperation” of Myanmar’s government “to fulfill their mandate to assess human rights abuses in Rakhine State and explore ways to end attacks and ensure accountability.”

HRW said Rohingya refugees who have recently fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh told the agency that Myanmar soldiers and police had burned down their homes and carried out armed attacks on villagers. The agency said many of the Rohingya refugees had “recent bullet and shrapnel wounds.”

Sources in Bangladesh have told VOA’s Bangla service that as many as 60,000 have crossed the border in recent days.

Struggling to feed displaced

In addition, thousands of people have fled their villages and sought shelter in temples, schools, and mosques in other Rakhine towns.

The deputy chairman of the Emergency Relief Committee, Khin Win, told VOA’s Burmese service by phone that 800 people are sheltering at two Buddhist monasteries in the town of Maungdaw.

“Security in Maungdaw is not even safe and some fled to Min Byar, Sittwe and Yathetaung. No one can guarantee their safety. People fleeing homes increasing and there are a few left in villages. There is only one police outpost in a village and police do not have the capability to protect villagers,” he said.

Volunteers were struggling to find food for the displaced, he said.

“We need drinking water, meat, fish, and medicines,” he said. The group has gotten rice and donations from other communities but little from the government.

“Government aid agency provided a few bags of beans and instant noodles. Three boxes of instant noodles for 500 people is not effective. Just a superficial help,” he said.

Also Read: Myanmar Woman May Khine Oo Shares Her Story of Human Trafficking to Prevent other Women from falling into the same trap

Hiding in forest

Hla Tun, a Rohingya from the village of Alae-Than-Kyaw, told the Burmese service that Muslims cannot rely on security forces for protection or help.

“Our villages are located near the rugged coastal area from south of Maungdaw to Alae-Than-Kyaw village. Almost every village has been burned down and people have nowhere to stay. People are hiding in the forest. In order to avoid authorities they can move only during night time to flee to Bangladesh,” Hla Tun said.

The violence began a week ago when a group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched a series of attacks on police posts in Rakhine, which is home to most of the Rohingya minority group. The police responded with attacks on villages, to hunt down the insurgents.

Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be migrants from Bangladesh and not one of the country’s many ethnic minority groups. Rohingya are denied citizenship, even if they can show their families have been in the country for generations.

Sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims has flared periodically for more than a decade. Until last month’s attacks, the worst violence was last October, when insurgents attacked several police posts, sparking a military crackdown that sent thousands fleeing to Bangladesh.

The Myanmar government has denied allegations of abuse against the Rohingya and has limited access to Rakhine to journalists and other outsiders; but, the country’s ambassador to the United Nations says the government plans to implement the recommendations of a U.N. commission to improve conditions and end the violence. (VOA)