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Bangladesh online bookstore drops author after death threats

Decision follows spate of attacks on bloggers and secularists

<p>Bangladeshi author Avijit Roy has had sales of his books banned by an online bookstore following death threats by an Islamic militant.</p>

Bangladeshi author Avijit Roy has had sales of his books banned by an online bookstore following death threats by an Islamic militant.

  • ucanews,com reporter, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • March 18, 2014
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A popular Bangladeshi online bookstore has stopped selling books by a popular writer after an Islamic militant issued death threats on Facebook to the website’s owner.

Rokomari.com said in statement that it has stopped selling books authored by Avijit Roy, a Bangladesh-born engineer and writer, who is currently living in the United States.

Roy pioneered the popular Bangladeshi online blogging site Freethinker and rose to prominence with his books on philosophy, scientific thought and human rights issues.

The decision to withdraw his books was prompted by death threats posted to Facebook by Farabi Shafiur Rahman, an Islamist extremist allegedly linked to the hardline Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami.

Farabi accused Roy of defaming Islam and the Prophet Mohammed and blamed Rokomari.com chairman Mahmudul Hasan Sohag of “promoting atheism” by selling Roy’s books.

In his Facebook post, Farabi specified the office address of Rokomari.com and called upon his “Islamist friends” in the adjacent locality to attack. He also told Sohag that he would suffer the same fate as Ahmed Rajib Haider, a popular blogger known by the psuedonym Thaba Baba, who was hacked to death last year by machete-wielding Islamic militants.

Rokomari.com released a statement saying that it was in the process of finalizing a policy to determine which books it would display on its website.

"After the recent controversies, we received a strong message. …A review committee has already started working to shape a policy under which no book that raises controversy will be shown on our site," Rokomari.com said.

Roy termed the decision "surprising and shocking".

“My books are mostly on modern science and philosophy. These are not the books criticizing religious scriptures or any particular religion. They are mainly scientific books having references from reputed journals, books and newspapers,” Roy told ucanews.com in an email.

He added that his books have never generated complaints over their content and that one of his books was on Bangladesh's annual best sellers list.

He also said Rokomari.com breached its own code of ethics by banning his books without contacting him or his publisher, but he was not considering legal action.

However, the website has come under fire from Roy’s friends and readers. A Facebook page was created urging Bangladeshis to boycott Rokomari.com.

The death threat follows a spate of attacks on bloggers and secularists by Islamic hardliners.

Asif Mohiuddin, a well known self-styled “militant atheist” blogger narrowly escaped death after being stabbed near his office in Dhaka in January 2013 by members of a militant group with al-Qaeda ties.

Rajib was found dead near his Dhaka home on February 15, 2013, with his throat slit and machete wounds to his head. Seven college students and a Muslim cleric were charged with his murder.

Farabi threatened to kill the Muslim cleric who officiated at Rajib’s funeral. Police later arrested Farabi on charges of “instigating the murder” but he was granted bail.

Following Rajib’s death, fundamentalist Islamic groups launched massive nationwide protests demanding the execution of other atheist bloggers and the enactment of a blasphemy law, which led to violent clashes with government forces.

Since last year, the Bangladeshi government has blocked about a dozen websites and blogs to stem anti-blasphemy violence. It also set up a panel, which included intelligence chiefs, to search for potentially blasphemous content in social media.

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