Shammi Haque, 22, a secular writer and activist threatened by militant Islamists in Bangladesh has been granted asylum in Germany.
The US-based Center for Inquiry reported this week that they provided her with emergency assistance to help ensure her safe relocation after she received death threats.
CFI says that Haque has built a reputation in Bangladesh as a respected, outspoken, and fearless activist on behalf of secularism and free expression. On her blog, she wrote in support of democracy and human rights, and spoke against radical Islam.
In public protests and demonstrations, she became a highly visible critic of religious extremism, a recognised symbol of secular resistance. This made her a target of those same militants who brutally murdered several writers and activists associated with secularism and criticism of radical Islam.
After receiving threats on her life and seeing her name appear on a public hit list of secular bloggers, Haque contacted the Center for Inquiry which advocates for reason, science, and secular values.
The crisis in Bangladesh had become a central focus of CFI’s efforts, and in 2015 they launched the Freethought Emergency Fund, a programme which lends assistance to those activists in places like Bangladesh who face mortal danger for exercising their right to free expression.
When I was targeted, I was so afraid. Every day I thought, this may be my last day, I may not see the next day’s sunrise. Connecting with the Center for Inquiry was a big opportunity in my life, for without CFI, I couldn’t have done anything. And CFI helped me immediately. Now I have asylum here, so I can live safely. So I am very thankful to the German government for giving me asylum so quickly.”
Said Michael De Dora, CFI’s public policy director and coordinator of its efforts in Bangladesh:
Shammi is well-known for her courage and unwavering advocacy for secularism and free expression. She has shown that same courage throughout an ordeal in which she has been targeted for her unwillingness to be silent. We are delighted and relieved that we could have some hand in bringing her to safety so that she can continue to speak out and serve as an inspiration to others.
When I was born, my identity was ‘human being’. When I grew up, my identity was ‘woman.’ Then they added ‘Muslim woman’, and everybody forgot my first identity. I was fighting for my first identity, and I’m still doing that. I want only one identity: ‘Human being’. All of my activism and my writing is for my first identity.
CFI is also leading an international coalition of distinguished scholars, scientists, activists, artists, and other luminaries to condemn Bangladesh government officials for callously blaming the victims of Islamic extremists’ attacks for their own deaths, and urging them to focus on protecting human rights and bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Signatories include Reza Aslan, Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss, Maryam Namazie, Richard Dawkins, and dozens more.
Haque’s move to Germany coincides with the launch of a book this week about the celebrated Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi written by his wife Ensaf Haidar, above, aided by Middle East reporter Andrea C Hoffman.
Raif Badawi, the Voice of Freedom is described by the Times as:
A story not only of a dissident who falls foul of the Saudi religious authorities but also of the extraordinary circumscribing of Saudi women’s lives and the connivance of their family and menfolk in it … Its value lies in its fresh and often surprising insights into a society few Westerners ever really penetrate and which is rarely written about honestly except by those who have already fled.
Haidar’s story, the series of betrayals by those closest to her, reminds us it is not just a government, but a whole society, that colludes in repression.