Asad Noor, an outspoken Bangladeshi blogger, who has been facing threats and intimidation from both state and non-state actors for supporting minorities and criticizing Islam, is living in exile in Bharat. His family is facing harassment by police back home.
German news outlet DW recently covered his story in a report dated 24 August, which we are republishing below with minor edits –
The atheist blogger crossed the Bangladesh-Bharat border illegally on February 14, 2019, with the help of an agent after intelligence officers confiscated his passport. He has been living in Bharat ever since.
“In my YouTube and Facebook videos, I have been criticizing Islam and Prophet Mohammad, referencing the Quran and the Hadith. At the same time, I am critical about political Islam. That’s why Islamists are angry with me,” Noor told DW.
“Local police frequently search our house (in Bangladesh) to try and arrest me … my family has been paying the price for my activism,” he added.
Attack on monastery
In July, Noor published several video blogs protesting the persecution of Bangladesh’s minority Buddhist community in Rangunia, a town in the southeastern part of the country.
A local leader of the country’s ruling party Awami League (AL) sued the blogger in July 2020 under the Digital Security Act, accusing him of “hurting religious sentiments” and “running propaganda against the spirit of the liberation war.”
One of Noor’s video blogs featured the apparent vandalism of a Buddhist statue under construction in a Buddhist monastery in Rangunia. Noor claimed that the attackers were supported by forest officials and the local MP of the AL party because they wanted to evict the monks from the area.
After Noor published his videos, local Islamist groups protested against the blogger and accused him of damaging religious harmony between Muslims and Buddhists.
Police raided Noor’s family house in Rangunia and allegedly harassed his family members while he was in Bharat. “On the early morning of July 18, police forcefully picked up my parents as well as four other family members, and kept them in illegal detention for nearly 48 hours,” Noor said
Nothing to do with religion
Both the Buddhist monastery and an AL leader claim ownership over the disputed land in Rangunia.
Abu Jafar, a former official in the disputed area, told DW that the land belongs to the government and “has nothing to do with religion.”
“The Buddhist monastery was built two years ago without any permission from the government. Some local political leaders also use some parts of the area without any permission,” he said.
Noor said he wanted to support the area’s minority Buddhist community and “save Rangunia from another Ramu incident.” He referred to the September 2012 attack on a Buddhist community in the southeastern town of Ramu. A mob of Islamist fundamentalists vandalized at least four temples and set fire to dozens of homes after a photo they considered defamatory to Islam was circulated online.
Noor’s stance against Bangladesh’s religious fundamentalists has triggered numerous protests in the past.
Hefazat-e-Islam, a radical Islamist group in the country, has called for the blogger’s arrest and the death penalty for blasphemy.
Noor was first detained in December 2017 while he was trying to travel abroad after an Islamic religious clergy sued him for creating and spreading content on social media that “hurt religious sentiments.” He was then released on bail in August 2018, only to be detained again one month later by the military intelligence agency.
The blogger was eventually released mid-January 2019 and decided to leave Bangladesh and continue his online activism. Now in Bharat, Noor still receives frequent death threats from fundamentalists.
He said some bloggers critical of religious fundamentalism in the past had been hacked to death by religious fanatics.
“Although serial killings of bloggers have stopped, it doesn’t mean that Bangladesh has become a safe haven for bloggers. No one can guarantee that it will not start again,” Noor said.
Recaptured in Bharat
After living in Bharat for over 3 months, Noor was arrested on May 19 and detained in prison for six months. He awaits bail and hopes his court appearance will be rescheduled “when the pandemic crisis ends.”
“My fate might be decided then,” he said.
This is not the first time an atheist Muslim from Bangladesh had to flee to Bharat for safety. Taslima Nasreen was the first to do so – first she fled to Sweden, then settled in Kolkata, Bharat in 2004 but was driven out of that city and eventually the country by 2008 due to Islamist pressure (triggered by a violent physical attack on her by Owaisi’s AIMIM during a talk in Hyderabad) on the UPA govt. She later returned to Bharat and is currently residing in New Delhi.
Although the DW report says Asad Noor is still awaiting bail, a Huffington Post article on Bangladeshi bloggers dated 2 August says that he is currently out on bail and in hiding in Bharat –
“Noor fled Bangladesh fearing his life and entered West Bengal without a passport and was jailed for nine months. He is currently out on bail and in hiding.
In Kolkata’s Presidency Jail, Noor met a person who was accused in the Khagragarh blast case, an accidental explosion in 2014 in Burdwan district of West Bengal at a hideout of Bangladesh-based banned terror group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (Bangladesh), or JMB.
The terror accused told me that he got involved for the sake of Allah and sought my sympathy. I told him on his face that he was a fool. He later said he would have killed me had he not met me inside the jail,” said Noor, who has been living in hiding since getting released on bail from the Indian jail.”
The Huffington Post article also talks about another young Bangladeshi blogger living in exile in Bharat-
“Another young atheist blogger is Md. Sazzadul Haque, who had to leave Bangladesh for India after a Facebook post criticising Islam went viral. Haque, who is studying in India, calls himself an atheist and humanist. According to him, it is better to take up other struggles “than to surrender freethinking before bigotry.”
“I reluctantly left my country after realizing that no corner of Bangladesh was safe for me,” he said.”
Between 2013 and 2016, Bangladesh experienced a wave of violence against bloggers, atheists, and secular intellectuals, which later extended to aid workers, minority religions and Muslims who opposed the ideology of extremist Islam. At least 30 people were murdered over this period, some even in broad daylight at the hands of men wielding machetes and knives.
According to an estimate by atheist blogger Mahmudul Haque Munshi ‘Bandhon’, 276 secular and atheist bloggers and activists are living in exile in countries across the globe.
While the Sheikh Hasina led Awami League government is helpful for Bharat to combat Islamic and other terror movements, Hindus and other minorities continue to face severe persecution under her regime. As Ananya Azad, a blogger whose father (a writer and professor) was attacked for rationalist writing and later died in Germany, says –
“Bangladesh’s freethinking and rationalist movement is wounded. Under an undemocratic societal system, religious influence has hugely increased. There has been Islamization of school textbooks. The rationalist movement has slowed down, hit hurdles, but is far from being finished. At present, it is largely being led by people living abroad.”
The very fact that so many atheist Bangladeshi bloggers continue to seek refuge in Bharat, even during the rule of the so-called ‘fascist, Hindutva’ government of Narendra Modi, speaks volumes about the quality of Hindu society where civilized debate and discussion on all topics, including religion, has always been a part of our civilization.
It also blows holes in the arguments of those who claim that CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) is discriminatory – all CAA does is provide expedited blanket citizenship to non-Muslim refugees who crossed into Bharat on or before 31 Dec 2014; our country still open its doors to genuinely persecuted individual Muslims like Asad Noor and Md. Sazzadul Haque who are free to seek refuge here. On the contrary, it is the ‘secular’ states like West Bengal where such atheist, free-thinking Muslims face the greatest danger from Islamist-appeasing governments like the one led by Mamata Banerjee.
The rising tide of Islamism in Bangladesh should also serve as a warning bell to West Bengal’s Hindus who are fooled by language chauvinists like Bangla Pokkho’s Garga Chatterjee into believing an imaginary language-based kinship with Bangladeshi Muslims, leading to talk of separatism and a ‘United Bengal’.
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