Bangladeshi atheist blogger saved

Photo of a man gripping a mesh fence

The Humanist Society of Victoria (HSV) was alerted by Progressive Atheists, via Andrew Rawlings, to the deserving case of Tonoy in late 2016. He is a human rights freelance journalist who came to Australia after being physically attacked in his home country of Bangladesh and under repeated threat of death there. He is a columnist for Dhaka Tribune and blogs for Newsnext Bangladesh and Mukto-Mona. The latter blogsite was founded by Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Persecution of atheists is common in Bangladesh and condoned by the government. The Australian Immigration Department had issued Tonoy with a deportation order, so putting his life in jeopardy.

We visited Tonoy in detention at Maygar Barracks, Broadmeadows, which was being managed by Serco. We helped Progressive Atheists generate an appeal to the minister (Peter Dutton), in November 2016, to use his discretion to lift the deportation on humanitarian and refoulement grounds, and it was endorsed by international humanists. But the minister ignored it. Tonoy’s circumstances did not fit the Department’s standard refugee categories; they saw no reason to use the alternative ‘complementary protection’ under human-rights law, which has been invoked many times since its introduction in 2012 in section 36 of the Migration Act. Tonoy was shunted off to New South Wales and grew despondent as his visa began to run out.

In August 2018, when the senior photo-journalist Shahidul Alam was arrested and beaten in Bangladesh, there was an international outcry. At the same time a fresh appeal on Tonoy’s behalf, co-authored by HSV and addressed this time to PEN International, finally bore fruit. A German skeptic society, GWUP, agreed to arrange his resettlement in Germany. A fund was raised locally to pay for his travel, to which HSV contributed, and Tonoy was lucky enough to get away just in time before his visa gave out in November.

At the Bangladeshi general election in December, the governing Awami League was returned ‘in a landslide’, so there is no prospect of any criticism of the status quo being tolerated by the state.

Reproduced from Victorian Humanist, Vol. 58, No. 1, Feb 2019

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