The International Press Institute (IPI) today called on Bangladeshi authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into a banned Islamist group’s death threat against 24 people, including five journalists, and to take steps to ensure the safety of those threatened.
The group, Ansarullah Bangla Team, made the threat in a letter issued yesterday that specifically targeted IPI Vice Chair Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul, president of the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists-JFUJ and editor-in-chief and CEO of Boishakhi Television, as well as Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu and senior journalists, academics, bloggers and cultural activists.
The letter – the third in recent weeks allegedly issued by the group – apparently targeted Bulbul and others over their perceived support for war crimes trials stemming from Bangladesh’s bloody 1971 war of independence against Pakistan. It was sent to the office of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Dhaka written on the “official letterhead” of the group.
IPI urged Bangladeshi authorities to ensure that Ansarullah Bangla Team was not able to make good on the threat, which came the same day as Bangladesh’s top court upheld an Islamist party leader’s death sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1971 war.
“It’s clear this group seeks to intimidate journalists on the list, such as IPI’s Vice Chair Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul,” John Yearwood, chair of IPI’s Executive Board and the world editor of the Miami Herald, said. “I hope authorities in Bangladesh take these threats seriously and work aggressively to capture and bring to justice those behind them.”
Dhaka University acting proctor Prof. Amzad Ali told the Dhaka Tribune that the matter had been reported to police. Police representatives told local media that an investigation had already begun.
No progress has been made, however, in the investigation into the previous two letters, dated May 20 and June 3, in which the same group allegedly threatened 11 and six people, respectively, with death.
The banned extremist group has previously claimed responsibility for the murders of several activists, including the hacking deaths of bloggers Avijit Roy, Ahmed Rajeeb Haider and Ananta Bijoy Das this year, and Rajshahi University teacher AKM Shafiul Islam in 2014.
It has also reportedly expressed a desire to establish Sharia law in Bangladesh, a goal it shares with international terrorist groups as well as local Islamist organizations Jamaat-e-Islami and Hefazat-e-Islam.
IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi condemned the violent threats and she called on authorities to protect those named in the letter and their families.
“We stand with our colleague, Mr. Bulbul, and we urge authorities to ensure the safety and security of those threatened and to fully investigate this matter so that those who would resort to murder to silence those with whom they disagree may be brought to justice,” she said.