Freethought Today · June / July 2016

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Nonbelief Relief aids imperiled activists

Nonbelief Relief has recently aided seven nonbelievers whose lives have been threatened in Bangladesh.

Nonbelief Relief, a charity founded by FFRF last year, wired stipends of $5,000 each to each of the seven activists, who have been typically described as "Bangladeshi bloggers." They include three students, an employee in a local business, and professionals with diverse backgrounds. They range in age from teens to mid-30s. As of this writing, none is yet safely out of the country, so identities cannot be divulged.

All seven are on a "hit list" believed to be produced by Muslim extremist groups. All have publicly stated their nonbelief, whether on Facebook, blogs or other social media. All have been tailed or followed by as many as three men at a time with "radical" appearance and received online threats. The stalking of one blogger in the past few weeks has escalated to the point where he's gone into hiding until he can emigrate.

"Dhaka now feels more dangerous than a war zone to me, after a spate of machete attacks by Islamist groups," one of the Bangladesh nonbelievers wrote recently to Annie Laurie Gaylor, administrator of Nonbelief Relief and co-president of FFRF.

Another told Gaylor she is stalked from time to time as "an open atheist feminist writer," who calls herself an "online activist" and who uses Facebook as "my medium of choice to express my opinions and perspectives online with the world."

Another writes that since 2010, he has openly opposed "ongoing social problems like the killing of innocent people, rape and other evils," including blogging on women's rights and atheism. "I realized after the brutal murder of blogger and freethinker Avijit Roy that none of us is safe. The Islamic extremists are ready to kill us all."

Some of them have transferred offices, or moved around from relative to relative to evade stalkers. All were vetted and referred for help for Nonbelief Relief by Taslima Nasrin, the noted author forced to seek asylum in the early 1990s, following death fatwas pronounced by Bangladeshi imams. Nasrin is near the top of the hit list and was helped last year by FFRF's early Nonbelief Relief project to leave India, when death threats there escalated.

Since 2013, more than 13 nonbelievers have been slaughtered by Muslim terrorists in Bangladesh. The machete attack of U.S. citizen Avijit Roy in February 2015 — and attempted murder of his widow Rafida Bonya Ahmed, who was grievously injured — was the beginning of a series of six cold-blooded daytime murders of freethinkers, most on the streets of Dhaka, through this April. Also hacked to death in April was Xulhaz Mannan, the first editor of an LGBT publication in Bangladesh, along with his friend. A third man was injured. Mannan worked at the U.S. embassy. A Bangladesh professor, Rezaul Karim Siddique, was hacked to death in late April by suspected Islamic extremists, who issued a statement accusing him of "calling to atheism," although his daughter told the BBC her father believed in God.

"Freethinkers around the world cannot sit on our hands while those carrying the torch of the enlightenment are viciously picked off on the streets of Bangladesh," says Gaylor.
"It's imperative we offer what assistance we can to save lives."

Unfortunately the travel/relocation stipends are just the beginning of many hurdles facing these seven bloggers. They must obtain visas and either enroll in foreign schools or find employment. It's difficult to get permanent visas in India for Bengalis, so professionals in particular face so many challenges. Nonbelief Relief is making overtures to the State Department, which at this time has no policy to aid those on the hit list (numbering about 300).

Nonbelief Relief was organized to "remediate conditions of human suffering and injustice on a global scale, whether the result of natural disasters, human actions or adherence to religious dogma. Such relief is not limited to, but includes assistance for, individuals targeted for nonbelief, secular activism or blasphemy," reads Nonbelief Relief's statement of purpose.

You may donate to campaigns like this by earmarking "Nonbelief Relief" in your FFRF donation. FFRF's online donation form also has a designation for Nonbelief Relief, making your donation deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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