05/27/2016, 13.43
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"Secular" Publisher: Bangladesh, a land of terror for writers and free thinkers

by Sumon Corraya

Mahbub Leelen is the founder of the Shuddhashar publishing house. He was recently honored for his "courage in publishing texts even in the face of political persecution." The publisher denounces the complicity of the government with the Islamic forces. "We all live in fear, we are forced to hide and to seek safe places to live and continue to write."

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - "Today Bangladesh is really a land of terror for writers and free thinkers", says Mahbub Leelen, founder of the Shuddhashar publishing house, speaking to AsiaNews. He has had the courage to publish texts of writers who are threatened and persecuted by Islamic radicals for their democratic ideas. The publisher says: "One of the key principles of the Bangladesh War of Independence [of 1971] was secularism. But now, both the government and the Islamic fundamentalists backed by the government are trying to scuttle the secular spirit in the country".

Leelen speaks of the constant insecurity and death threats suffered by those who, like him, refuse to give up fighting for freedom and democracy. Last week the publisher received the 2016 Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award in the United States. It is an important recognition that every year the Association of American Publishers International Freedom to Publish Committee assigns to "those who have shown courage in the face of political persecution."

In recent years, freedom of thought has been put to the test, with several bloggers and free thinkers killed for what they had written. These include university professors, publishers, gay rights activists, students who had dared to criticize Islamic extremism.

Leelen tells AsiaNews that "t this moment freedom of speech in Bangladesh is blocked by two major factors, first one is the law and the second factor is Islamic terrorist group backed by national and international politics. Writers and freethinkers are to face struggle in both sectors".

He complains that "the current government is imposing ‘Islamism’  in almost all aspects of life and also introducing laws to protect Islamic interests, which is basically a big barrier to talk and write about science and social issues, because science and social issues cannot go with religious beliefs and traditions".

"In a democratic country - he adds - everybody has the right to criticise and analyse other opinions, which is now forbidden by the blasphemy law. Given that the law and the government support directly and indirectly the fundamentalist philosophy, the terrorists have the green light to go even further. This means to impose Islam by force, threats, attacks and killings. "

The criticism of the authorities is explicit: "The government has no real intention of protecting freethinkers and environment of freethinking. Rather, they are trying to blame the killed person for the attack. From the activities of the government, it is now clear that they are also shaking hands with the Islamist fundamentalists"

The climate of terror is spreading, he admits, because "no one knows who will be the next target. Writers are living in fear. We're all hiding and try to find safe places to live and continue to write".

Over the years the Shuddhashar publishing house has been targeted by radicals: two of his collaborators, Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das, are among those slaughtered with machetes. Despite this fear, "the publishing house continues to publish books. Since it was founded [in 2004] more than 3 thousand volumes have been published. "

The editor admits the difficulty of his work: "When your friends and colleagues die for what they write, your office is besieged and the employees wounded, I think we all seek safety and security”. He does not blame those who over the years have stopped writing because of the threats. "People are really scared - he concludes - but we will not close our doors. We will continue our struggle, indeed we are expanding our activities. We have already launched an initiative of e-book publications, with which we will make printing and paper books available on-demand".

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