Washington, Dec 21: Human rights groups on today urged the US to offer emergency sanctuary to Bangladeshi writers targeted by Islamic extremists for their secular beliefs following a wave of killings that have fueled concern over rising radicalism in the South Asian nation.
A coalition of rights organizations, led by the PEN American Center, made the appeal in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. They warned that a group of writers, bloggers and publishers are in "urgent danger." Four bloggers and a publisher have been killed this year and dozens more have been publicly threatened.
Bangladesh is a Muslim country with traditions of secularism and tolerance. But a Dec 8, reports on violent extremism prepared for the U.S. Agency for International Development and obtained by The Associated Press says that since 2013 "there seems to be greater acceptance of the militant groups" within Bangladesh.
The report by Management Systems International, a U.S.-based international development firm, says conservative and less tolerant interpretations of Islam appear to be gaining ground. The report is also critical of the Bangladeshi government's approach to counter-terrorism in a politically charged atmosphere.
The letter from the rights groups says that the Bangladeshi government has not provided adequate protection for bloggers, and in some cases has urged them to self-censor or leave the country.
Some secular bloggers have been arrested on charges of insulting religious sentiments. The letter called the situation "extremely dangerous" and urged "humanitarian parole" for the bloggers to prevent their deaths.
Seven organizations signed the letter, including Human Rights Watch and Freedom House. Humanitarian parole is used sparingly to bring a person into the United States for a temporary period of time due to a compelling emergency, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services.
The five individuals killed between February and October were among those named on "hit lists" published by Islamist groups that have claimed responsibility for the attacks, the letter said. Other individuals on the lists have contacted the rights organizations or have received death threats by mobile phone or social media, it says.