How self-censorship threatens free speech

George Packer writes: One morning last week, as Washiqur Rahman, a shy, boyish-looking twenty-six-year-old Bangladeshi, left his house in Dhaka and started walking to the travel agency where he worked, three men set upon him with machetes and hacked him to death. The blows rendered his face unrecognizable. Two of the killers were captured by a transgender Bangladeshi beggar who lived nearby and handed over to the police. The killers, madrassa students, didn’t know Rahman; they scarcely knew one another. They explained that they had been separately recruited for the job two weeks earlier. Their teacher had said that Rahman was “an anti-Islamic person,” they told the police. “It was our responsibility as believers to kill him. So we killed him.”

They didn’t seem to know what blogging was, and they were not aware that Rahman was a secular blogger who had written critically about radical Islamists. He was part of a small, lively, embattled group of Bangladeshi freethinkers. Shortly before he was murdered, he changed his Facebook picture to the hashtag “#iamavijit.” Avijit Roy, a naturalized American citizen, was an outspoken atheist and the founder of the Bengali blog Free Mind. In February, on his way out of a book fair at Dhaka University, where he had gone to promote his book “The Virus of Faith,” Roy was killed by three machete blows to the head. Trying to save him, his wife, Rafida Ahmed, was wounded in the head, and one of her thumbs was severed, while onlookers and policemen stood by. The killers got away. For months, Roy had been receiving open threats on Facebook from radical Islamists. In recent years, other independent-minded Bangladeshis have been savagely attacked. The government seems unable or unwilling to protect them, and police investigations seldom produce convictions. [Continue reading…]

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