When Bangladeshi blogger and social activist Ashif Entaz Rabi hosted a TV talk show about a slaying of a publisher by Islamic extremists, he faced a torrent of threatening phone calls.
He says young men with earpieces started loitering outside his workplace, and a militant website urged followers to “send this Ashif to Allah.”
But Bangladeshi authorities told him they couldn’t protect him, saying he’d need the kind of security usually reserved for the prime minister to keep him safe. Instead, they told him to take care of himself, and write something good about Islam and the government.
Rabi, 37, is in Washington at the invitation of a human rights group, calling attention to the dozens of writers and bloggers who fear they could be the next victim of a wave of savage attacks on liberals and religious minorities in Bangladesh.
The violence has had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and a coalition of rights groups has called for a UN-backed inquiry into the killings because Bangladesh’s government has failed to address the situation.
They say “an atmosphere of complete impunity” in the South Asian nation is emboldening the killers. Since the beginning of 2015, at least nine intellectuals, academics, writers, bloggers, and activists have been hacked to death in targeted assassinations.
Rabi attended the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner at the weekend, and is due to meet today with a top State Department envoy on human rights, Tom Malinowski, to discuss the deteriorating climate of tolerance in Bangladesh.
He’ll also be hoping to find a way to secure sanctuary in the US for himself and his immediate family.
“It’s better that the international community do something rather than just make statements. It’s no use just issuing letters, as the prime minister (of Bangladesh) does not care,” Rabi told The Associated Press on Monday.
Secretary of State John Kerry called Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday, urging Bangladesh to protect those at risk.
He also offered US support for the investigation into the slaying last week of Xulhaz Mannan, a US Agency for International Development employee and gay rights activist.