Human rights groups urge US to grant asylum to Bangladesh bloggers


A coalition of human rights groups on Monday urged the United States to offer emergency sanctuary to secular writers from Bangladeshi writers after a series of bloody attacks by militants.

Five bloggers and a publisher were killed by militants in Bangladesh this year, including an American citizen of Bangladeshi origin. The rights groups, led by the PEN American Center, which advocates freedom of expression, said at least four others had been attacked while dozens more have been publicly threatened.

In a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry, the eight groups — including Freedom House, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders — said the writers were in “urgent danger” and should be granted temporary visas.

Karin Deutsch Karlekar, PEN’s director of free expression programs, said dozens of Bangladeshi writers were living in hiding and seeking “protections their own government is unwilling or unable to provide.”

In some cases, the writers have been urged by the government to self-censor or leave the country. Some secular bloggers have been arrested on charges of insulting religious sentiments.

“Bloggers and writers in Bangladesh have nowhere left to turn, as they face both death threats by extremist groups and fear of arrest on charges of blasphemy by government officials seeking to appease religious authorities,” she said in a statement.

Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, said the writers were “terrified,” and should be allowed to enter the US under a system known as humanitarian parole, which grants visas to individuals at risk who would otherwise be inadmissible.

Humanitarian parole is used sparingly to bring a person into the US for a temporary period of time due to a compelling emergency, according to the US Citizenship and Immigrations Services.

“Having championed global efforts to defend Internet freedom and fend off threats to religious liberty, the United States should take the lead to save the lives of these bloggers who face the very real risk of being murdered for the crime of expressing their views online,” Nossel said.