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Blogging In Bangladesh Is A Deadly Occupation

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Free speech in Bangladesh can get you killed. This past week, men armed with machetes brutally attacked a blogger named Ananta Bijoy Das on his way to work. He's only the latest blogger to be killed there. Das wrote for a website called Mukto Mona, which translates to Free Thinkers. It's a site for articles and discussion about science, atheism and rationalism. Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi American, founded the site, and he and his wife were attacked in a similar way back in February. He was killed, but his wife, Rafida Ahmed, survived. She's now in the United States undergoing treatment for her injuries. And when I spoke with her, she said she was getting better.

RAFIDA AHMED: My head wounds are looking much better and also the thumb that got cut off also healing pretty well. But I do still feel pretty dizzy. There are a lot of side effects.

MARTIN: And obviously, still grieving the loss of your husband. He was a free speech activist. What kind of things did he write about? What motivated him?

AHMED: He used to write about science, rationalism, atheism and of course the religious fundamentalism. That was pretty much his passion.

MARTIN: So when the two of you decided, I believe along with your daughter, to go to Bangladesh recently, were you afraid for your physical safety at all?

AHMED: You know, we took precautions. We didn't go anywhere alone. We always had a chauffeur. We didn't walk by ourselves too late at night. We were always in crowded places. So we were just careful to that limit. But we didn't think that this was a real threat.

MARTIN: Do you have any idea who's responsible?

AHMED: You know, the very religious fundamentalist terrorist group Ansarullah claimed responsibility for this I think within hours of his death. There is no reason to think otherwise.

MARTIN: I mean, I imagine this is - it's chilling your community of thinkers and writers. What are the conversations like? Are you talking with your colleagues in this world? Is - what kind of precautions are people taking?

AHMED: You know, you can do very little when your elected government doesn't give you any support, especially when these kind of brutal murders are happening. The government has stayed completely quiet about this. The Prime Minister called my father in law privately and tried their best to keep it a secret so that nobody knows that they have sympathized with us at all. And then when Reuters was doing an interview with me, the journalists contacted Bangladeshi embassy here and only then they issued a statement. And also the Prime Minister's son, Sajeeb Wazed, also actually gave an interview to him. Pretty much said that they are walking a fine line, and they're scared. They don't want to side with the atheists.

MARTIN: It is a secular government in Bangladesh.

AHMED: That's what they claim. But they have arrested bloggers for criticizing religion to make the religious groups happy because that's what they demanded. But when the bloggers are killed brutally by these religious fundamentalists, they stay quiet.

MARTIN: Do people continue to write? Do the bloggers continue to post?

AHMED: A lot of people are scared. We still have a lot of people blogging. They are taking a huge risk. A lot of people have got threats. Like who - these bloggers have gotten a lot of threats so far.

MARTIN: Rafida Ahmed, thank you so much for talking with us.

AHMED: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.