Reporters Without Borders condemns the threats against news media and bloggers contained in a email that was sent to a score of Bangladeshi print and broadcast media outlets on 19 October 2015, and calls on the authorities to take concrete measures to protect all those targeted.
Sent by Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), a militant Islamist group that has claimed the murders of four bloggers this year, and signed by a person identifying himself as ABT spokesman Abdullah bin Salim, the Bengali-language email constituted a clear threat to all media that fail to adhere strictly to Islamic law.
The email included a demand for news media to fire all female employees and to refrain from publishing any ads that show women or any photos that include a woman not wearing a burqa.
“Telling media outlets to fire women employees is appalling, especially as women journalists are already in the minority in news organizations and are exposed to additional difficulties and threats because they are women,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.
“The authorities must take action to prevent women journalists being silenced. At the same time, bloggers are still being threatened so the government must be especially vigilant and end the culpable passivity that has already resulted in the deaths of four bloggers since the start of the year. These new threats must be investigated and the investigation must make rapid progress leading to the arrest of this extremist group’s members.”
The email also included death threats against 15 bloggers – nine living abroad and six living in Bangladesh – said to have participated in an “anti-Islam campaign” on social networks, as well as all those who “support atheists” and all those whose “freedom of expression breaks the limit we have set.”
Naming three of the four bloggers murdered this year – Niloy Neel, Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy – and referring menacingly to their fate, the email warned that “the consequences will be severe if you do not walk the path of Islam.”
The email continued with a series of directives banning any criticism or negative publicity about the “soldiers of Islam” and any content contrary to the Sharia. Media outlets criticizing those responsible for the death of an “atheist” would be regarded as encouraging atheism and would “face the consequences,” the message added.
Imran H. Sarker, one of Bangladesh’s most popular bloggers, with about a million followers on social networks, received similar death threats on 17 October from a Facebook account apparently linked to the Islamic State.
All of the bloggers murdered since the start of 2015 – Washiqur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Das, Niloy Neel and Avijit Roy, the founder of the Mukto-Mona discussion website – criticized religious fundamentalism and advocated tolerance, free speech and freedom of thought in their blogs.
Bangladesh is ranked 146th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.