Friday, 22 May 2015

International writers call for justice for bloggers murdered in Bangladesh

More than 150 writers from around the world, including Margaret Atwood, Amitav Ghosh, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Yann Martel, Salman Rushdie and Colm Tóibín have condemned the murders of Ananta Bijoy Das (or Dash), Washiqur Rahman Babu and Avijit Roy, three secular bloggers who have been brutally killed in Bangladesh this year. 

The group includes writers, publishers and lawyers who have joined PEN International and English PEN in calling on Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina Wajed and her government to do all in their power to ensure that the tragic events of the last three months are not repeated and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The letter, signed by PEN members across the globe, states:

We were shocked and horrified by last week’s murder of 32-year-old blogger and editor Ananta Bijoy Das, who was hacked to death on his way to work by a masked gang wielding machetes in the city of Sylhet on 12 May. Prior to his death, Ananta Bijoy Das had reportedly received a number of death threats from Islamist militants, and his name had appeared in two assassination lists published in the Bangladeshi media, alongside those of other secular bloggers described as anti-Islamic and blasphemous.

Less than two months earlier, on 26 February, fellow blogger and close friend of Ananta Bijoy Das, Avijit Roy was similarly brutally killed. Roy and his wife Rafida Ahmed Bonya, were viciously attacked by unknown assailants close to the Dhaka University campus. Roy died soon afterwards whilst Rafida Ahmed Bonya was severely injured. A militant Islamist group has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack.

A month later, on 29 March, blogger Washiqur Rahman Babu was murdered just 500 yards from his home in Begunbari, Dhaka. Police have claimed that the attackers targeted the 27-year-old blogger because they believed he had defamed Islam through his writings on websites, forums and social media. Two students from a madrassa (an Islamic school) have since been arrested in connection with Rahman’s killing.

At least three other writers have been attacked or murdered in Bangladesh since 2013 and, although there have been several arrests, no one has been held to account for any of these attacks. We are gravely concerned by this escalating pattern of violence against writers and journalists who are peacefully expressing their views. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right under Bangladesh’s constitution as well as one of the rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The authors have called on the Bangladeshi authorities to investigate Ananta Bijoy Das’s death swiftly and impartially as well as the murders of Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman Babu, and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice in accordance with international fair trial standards. They also demand that the authorities do all in their power to provide protection and support to bloggers and other writers at risk in Bangladesh, in accordance with Bangladesh’s obligations under national and international law.

Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN, said:

‘This is a campaign of violence against bloggers and writers who are courageous enough to speak out in a hostile culture for free speech. The government of Bangladesh must urgently address the climate of impunity and be seen to safeguard freedom of expression. These shocking events have united writers throughout the world in an important show of solidarity.’

John Ralston Saul, President of PEN International, said:

‘Since my time in Dhaka late last year, I have seen the situation slip steadily downhill. The government, and the Prime Minister in particular, have the responsibility and the ethical obligation to stop this violence and to ensure that Bangladesh meets acceptable standards of both democracy and the rule of law, which are needed to protect the citizens' right to free expression.’

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The winner of the 2015 Ondaatje Prize is...

Justin Marozzi has won the 2015 Ondaatje Prize for a book evoking the spirit of place with Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood (Allen Lane).

For the announcement from the Prize's administrator, The UK-based Royal Society of Literature, click here.

Some reviews, all from UK-based publications:
The Independent
The Telegraph
The Spectator
The Guardian

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Sunday Post

A rojak* of items that caught my eye this week…

Flood of Fire
Flood of Fire, by Amitav Ghosh, book 3 in his Ibis trilogy, which explores the opium wars mainly from British and Indian perspectives, has already been getting plenty of coverage, although it is not published until May 28. Click here for a review in the Independent, UK, and here for one from The Financial Times, UK. Amitav Ghosh is on the shortlist for the International Man Booker Prize, 2015. The winner will be announced this Tuesday, May 19. Click here for interviews with all the finalists, from the Guardian, UK

Note from Tokyo Writers
This from John Gribble, of Tokyo Writers: "Here is a small reminding nudge. We have two more weekends to submit proposals for the Japan Writers Conference in Kobe in October. What would you like to talk about?" For guidelines click here.

Sydney Writers Festival
The Sydney Writers Festival starts tomorrow, Monday, May 18.  If anybody is going, and would like to write up events for Asian Books Blog, please get in touch (NB, no payment). Follow the links below for Facebook and Twitter, or e-mail: Thanks, and here's hoping!! 

Seen Elsewhere
This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War by Samanth Subramanian, reviewed by Amit Chaudhuri: An account of the civil war in Sri Lanka and its aftermath is all the more devastating for withholding judgement, the Guardian, UK

*A rojak is a Singaporean salad. Like Asian Books Blog on Facebook, or follow it on Twitter: @asianbooksblog

Thursday, 14 May 2015

All About Eastlit / Graham Lawrence

Eastlit is an English-language online journal and website focused on creative writing and art specifically from or connected to East and South East Asia, including Siberia and Mongolia. The editors now also offer an electronic supplement covering South Asia: Southlit. British expat Graham Lawrence, a writer, teacher and publisher, is one of the co-founders of Eastlit.  His own writing includes the eBooks Broken Lines, a collection of tales, including autobiographical ones, that meander from London to South East Asia, and Tales from the Village, a collection of simple stories told to Graham, or else based on incidents witnessed by him, or actually involving him, on his Asian travels.  Graham, a Brit married to a Thai woman, is a long-term resident of Thailand. He gave Asian Books Blog an interview, via e-mail.

Asia House Literature Festival: Following Along From Asia

In Tuesday's post on the  Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival, I said I'd check out how people in Asia could follow along via social media.

Lucy Tomlinson, PR and Marketing Manager at Asia House, had the following suggestions:

"For readers in Asia, it would be great if they could get involved by using Twitter: #AHLIT15. We’ve also recorded all of the events, and filmed many of them, so this could be a good way for those who weren’t able to come along to catch-up on what was discussed. Our Web Editor, Naomi, has also written a number of stories following events, which can be seen on the Asia House website. These condense many of the topics discussed and give a great overview of key points."

You can see Naomi's stories on the Asia House website by clicking here