Ahead of her first public address following the brutal murder of her husband at the hands of Islamic extremists, Bangladeshi blogger Bonya Ahmed has called on the UK Government to do more in tackling extremism at home and to put pressure on international governments to tackle the growing persecution of humanists and the non-religious internationally.
In February this year, Islamists attacked humanist writers Bonya Ahmed and her husband Avijit Roy with machetes as they were leaving a book fair in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bonya was gravely injured in the assault; Avijit lost his life. Al-Qaeda has since claimed responsibility for the attack, which Bonya rightly sees as an act of terror, as ‘a crime not only against a person, but against freedom of speech and humanity’. Other humanist and secularist bloggers who were colleagues of Avijit’s and also murdered in the same brutal manner were Washiqur Rahman in March this year, Ananta Bijoy Das in May and Ahmed Rajib Haider in 2013. Asif Mohidduin, who received the Free Expression Award at last year’s World Humanist Congress on behalf of his colleagues, was stabbed by four youths outside his house.
Arriving in the UK, Bonya Ahmed said, ‘I said soon after the murder of my husband that I would go back to being vocal and expressing what we believe in: the cause that Avijit died for. I will not be quiet.’
‘I am now calling on the UK Government to join me in condemning the persecution of the non-religious internationally, which is increasing with the rise of religious fundamentalism. British NGOs like the BHA speak out on these issues at the United Nations and in the media but they are often isolated voices. It is simply not enough for governments like the UK to focus on extremism in Britain without focussing on the bigger picture.
‘I was shocked that some of the first praise for the murder of my husband online came from social media accounts in the UK. Coming here is a risk for me but my husband founded Mukto Mona to rally together critics of religious fundamentalism, and strong advocates of secularism and freedom of speech and expression, so they could have their voices heard despite the near daily death threats. That is why I am here. Not only must the world leaders try to reverse the culture of impunity whereby Al-Qaeda- and Islamist-led murders and attacks are openly praised, but they must also use their influence internationally to advocate for the rights of the non-religious in this increasingly inter-connected world we live in’.
Ahead of the Voltaire Lecture Bonya Ahmed and Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA and President of the International Humanist Ethical Union (IHEU), will meet with Baroness Anelay, Minister of State with responsibility for human rights at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, to discuss the Government’s priorities in relation to the persecution of humanists and freethinkers internationally.
For further comment or information contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0773 843 5059.
Bangladeshi humanist blogger Bonya Ahmed has been announced by the British Humanist Association (BHA) as its 2015 Voltaire Lecturer. Chaired by BHA President Jim Al-Khalili, her lecture will take place in the Hilton London Metropole Hotel on the evening of 2 July.
In the Voltaire Lecture, Bonya will tell her tale, speaking of her life with Avijit and of their struggle for Humanism and secularism in Bangladesh and beyond. She’ll go on to take part in a conversation with BHA President Jim Al-Khalili, before answering questions from the audience.
Tickets are available to buy at humanism.org.uk/voltaire2015.
The Voltaire Lecture was established by the legacy of Theodore Besterman, biographer of Voltaire, for lectures on ‘any aspect of thought or human activity as affected by or with particular reference to humanism or Voltaire’ and are administered by the BHA. Previous Voltaire Lecturers have included Professor Sir David King, Professor Anthony Grayling, Professor Steven Pinker, Professor Brian Cox, Professor Richard Dawkins, Baroness Wootton, Professor Robert Hinde, Kenan Malik, Natalie Haynes, Lord Taverne, and Sir Ludovic Kennedy. It is always chaired by the President of the BHA, currently Professor Jim Al-Khalili.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.