Journalists in Bangladesh say they are alarmed by email threats warning them of “severe action” if they publish reports about the murders of “atheist” bloggers or their beliefs.
The emails, which many Bangladeshi media outlets received Monday, also warned editors not to employ Muslim women.
The warnings, which purportedly were sent by the group known as the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), said that it would kill all Bangladeshi “anti-Islam atheist” bloggers.
Journalists and bloggers called the email outrageous.
“They are asking women journalists to leave their jobs and stay at home. It seems that they are on the path to issue identical diktats to all working women in Bangladesh. They want the women to stay at home as puppets,” said Shammi Haque, a Dhaka blogger, who has received several death threats from the Islamists and now lives under police protection.
The latest threat highlights the challenges Bangladesh’s press faces from all directions, said Sumit Galhotra, Asia program research associate for the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based worldwide press freedom advocacy group.
“Journalists and media houses (in Bangladesh) are already being squeezed under mounting government pressure, now journalists also have to contend with the diktats from the militant groups,” Galhotra told VOA.
Since the Islamists called for public execution of the secular bloggers, five bloggers and five secular activists who supported them have been hacked to death in Bangladesh.
ABT claimed responsibility for the killing of blogger Neeladri Chatterjee in Dhaka on August 7. BangladeshI police, who claim to have detained or arrested many ABT militants, say the group was responsible for the deaths of all four bloggers killed in the country this year.
Now the latest email threat from the ABT, which apart from targeting the bloggers has unprecedentedly warned the media outlets of action, has become a worry for some journalists in Bangladesh.
The email, written in Bengali, ordered major media outlets in Bangladesh to stop what it called “slandering” ABT and similar extremist groups.
“Stay away from atheist and anti-Islam propaganda. You are being forbidden from criticizing the jihadi activities by our army of Islam," the e-mail said, and any criticism of the murders of atheists was also forbidden.
While several Dhaka editors refused to speak to VOA on the issue, some journalists who asked to remain unidentified said the email from the ABT had scared them.
“At my workplace about 20 percent of the journalists are women. Some among them said that they felt extremely scared with the email since they knew how they had attacked the bloggers,” one 24-year-old Muslim female journalist working for a Bengali language news portal told VOA.
“However, some of my other women colleagues are saying that they would not feel threatened unless they got threats at individual level," she added.
The journalist added that the senior editors and management of her portal took a “wait and watch” policy on the issue. “It seems they would not react on the threat until any actual attack takes place on someone in the media,” she said.
Bloggers threatened again
Monday's email also carried yet another threatening message for the secular bloggers.
It named nine Bangladeshi bloggers living abroad and six in the country, saying they would be killed soon.
“As soon as they (who are living abroad) land in Bangladesh, the men who love Allah will kill them as it happened in the case of (Bangladeshi American blogger) Avijit Roy…Anyone who makes any derogatory remark on Allah, Prophet Muhammad… on Facebook, blogs or elsewhere, will be slain by the brave heroes of Islam,” the email threatened.
“Not a single atheist will be allowed to stay alive. Allah has ordained us to kill them," it continued.
In Dhaka, Ibrahim Khalil Sobak, who was listed as an atheist blogger in the threat, said that ABT and other Islamist groups are turning Bangladesh into another Afghanistan.
“When the militants began killing the bloggers, moderate Muslims felt they were safe. Now, in a new strategy as they are opposing the freedom of women and targeting the women media workers, the moderate class will not feel safe anymore," Sobak said.
"Anyone who opposes the diktats of these militants will become unsafe in Bangladesh,” said Sobak, who has received many death threats recently.
Muntasirul Islam, deputy commissioner of the media wing of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said that the police cyberexperts are hunting for the source of the threat.
“The sender of the email claimed that it was being sent by ABT from Chittagong. But our cyber teams are working on it to find out the origin of the email,” Islam told VOA. “We are not sure at this point if the email was really sent by ABT.”