Bangladeshi writer finds asylum in Canada: By PJ Slinger

Raihan Abir lived in a constant state of fear that he would be killed.

And for good reason. Which was for bad reasons.

Abir is co-author of Philosophy of Disbelief, a book promoting atheism that became a bestseller in Bangladesh in 2011. He is now the latest Bangladeshi nonbeliever aided by Nonbelief Relief, which serves as the charitable arm of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Abir’s co-author, Avijit Roy, was hacked to death in February 2015 on a street in Dhaka by religious extremists.

Rafida Bonya Ahmed, Avijit Roy’s wife, survived the assault and is a prominent voice at global forums and the United Nations, calling on the Bangladeshi government to do more to protect atheist writers. She will be speaking at FFRF’s convention in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Oct. 8.

On May 12, 2015, Abir’s book editor and friend, Ananta Bijoy Das, had stepped out of his home for the daily commute to his job when men wearing masks and carrying machetes chased him and killed him.

“When he was killed, I said there is no way I’m not next,” Abir told the Toronto Globe and Mail. “They will target me, of course.”

Three people involved in the publishing of the book have been brutally murdered.
Three others have been seriously injured, as religious extremists in Bangladesh target atheist and secular writers. Since 2013, religious extremists have killed more than 50 bloggers, secularists and LGBT activists, according to Human Rights Watch.

“Whenever we started out of the house, he used to ride the motorcycle and I used to look backward all the time to make sure no one’s following us or going to do anything to us,” his wife Samia Hossain said.

Even as he got off the bike and walked to his job at the university, Abir would leave his helmet on because he feared an attacker would target his head with a machete.
“At least I’ll survive the first attack,” Abir told the Globe and Mail.


What got Abir into this dangerous predicament began in 2007, when he found comfort in the online world with places like Mukto-Mona — meaning “free thinking” — a website started by Avijit Roy that became a gathering spot for atheist and secular writers.
The people he met through Mukto-Mona became his co-authors, publishers, editors and fellow bloggers. He and others tried to debunk parts of the Quran, bible and Hindu sacred texts. They said religion was a virus that breeds extremism and threatens freedom.

But, in recent years, Islamic extremists began targeting those writers and, in 2015, the violence increased dramatically. Abir would get death threats by text message and email.

“It’s not uncommon for Islamic extremists to attack writers and secular people, so I was keeping myself away from going to public meetings and rallies so people don’t track me,” he told Michael Petrou of Maclean’s magazine. “I was taking these kind of precautions because we have to. But in 2015, it got out of control.”

It was so bad that Abir decided he had to get out of the country.

Leaving for Canada

Abir went to Canada in June of 2015 to attend a biomedical engineering conference, leaving behind his wife, who was six months pregnant. Neither had any idea when they would see each other again. “I knew that I might not be able to see her for three or four years,” Abir told The Guardian.

But, according to The Guardian, Hossain was pleased to see him leave Bangladesh. “When the plane left and was in the air, I knew he would be alive. I was so happy,” she said.

It wasn’t long before she was able to join Abir in Canada. She applied for a visa to attend an architect’s conference and within two months — by then eight months pregnant — she was on a plane to Toronto.

“I thought it would be the happiest day of my life,” Abir told The Guardian.
But while his wife was traveling to Canada, he learned that another of his friends, blogger Niloy Neel, had been hacked to death in his home on Aug. 14, 2015.
“It was a really stressful time,” Abir said. “We were losing the brightest minds of Bangladesh one by one.”

Then, shortly after finding a home to live in, their daughter Sophie was born. His family was then given refugee status in November.

“I kept it very secret that I was in Canada, but somehow they knew,” he told Maclean’s. “I can’t say 100 percent that I am safe. But I feel safe. In Dhaka, I used to wear a helmet all the time and look back while walking forward, but here I don’t do that.”

Won’t give up the fight

He continues to write and edit Mukto-Mona from his Toronto home. He plans to complete his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. He says he won’t give up the fight for secularizing Bangladesh.

“Because this dark side, this kind of thing, never [wins],” he told Maclean’s. “Maybe they do atrocities, maybe they will kill us. But they won’t be winning in the long run. So we’ll have to keep on doing what we do — keep informing people about science, about reason, about humanism.”

Abir also is focused on helping the many Bangladeshi writers who are still hiding and fearing for their lives.

“We’re trying to make connections with the outer world and get them to safe places,” he told The Guardian. “We don’t have any resources, we’re just trying to do what we can. But it is really difficult to fight off machetes with a pen.”

The goal of getting back to Bangladesh is on Abir and Hossain’s minds. But they know it won’t be soon. Abir hopes to go back in two years, while Hossain thinks it will be closer to five years. But they both agree that the murders will have to end before they go back.

“It’s not over yet,” Abir recently told the Globe and Mail. “Because within this month we’ll wake up one day in the morning and say, ‘That’s our friend. He has been killed.’ ”

Freedom From Religion Foundation