US-Bangladesh blogger Avijit Roy hacked to death

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Attackers in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka have hacked to death a US-Bangladeshi blogger whose writings on religion angered Islamist hardliners.

Avijit Roy, an atheist who advocated secularism, was attacked as he walked back from a book fair with his wife, who was also hurt in the attack.

No-one has been arrested but police say they are investigating a local Islamist group that praised the killing.

Hundreds of people gathered in Dhaka to mourn the blogger’s death.

Mr Roy’s family say he received threats after publishing articles promoting secular views, science and social issues on his Bengali-language blog, Mukto-mona (Free Mind).

He defended atheism in a recent Facebook post, calling it a “rational concept to oppose any unscientific and irrational belief“.

His Mukto-mona website on Friday bore the message in Bengali “we are grieving but we shall overcome” against a black background.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki described it as an assault on Bangladesh’s proud tradition of free intellectual and religious speech.

‘Den of militants’A group of men ambushed the couple, who live in the US and were visiting Dhaka only to attend the book festival, as they walked toward a roadside tea stall.

At least two of the attackers hit the couple with meat cleavers in the attack on Thursday evening, police chief Sirajul Islam told AP news agency.

Dropping their weapons, the attackers ran away, disappearing into the crowds.

Police told the BBC they were investigating a local hard-line religious group that had praised the killing in an online message.

Ajay Roy, father of the dead man, urged the authorities to find the killers and “ensure exemplary punishment”.

“This Bangladesh which was built by the blood-sacrifice of the martyrs has now turned into a den of militants,” he said.

Students, teachers and bloggers gathered at Dhaka University on Friday to protest against the killing.

Akbar Hossain reports from the scene where flowers have been laid

Bangladeshi social activists shout slogans during a protest against the killing of US blogger Avijit Roy in Dhaka on February 27Students and social activists gathered to protest against the blogger’s death

“Why does a person get killed just for the writing in his blogs?”: Locals react

‘Virus’ of extremismIn a forthcoming article to be published in the Free Inquiry magazine of April-May 2015, Mr Roy likens religious extremism to a “highly contagious virus”.

He says he received threats from Islamist hardliners in Bangladesh last year when his book, The Virus of Faith, was released at a book fair.

“The death threats started flowing to my e-mail inbox on a regular basis,” he writes.

“I suddenly found myself a target of militant Islamists and terrorists. A well-known extremist… openly issued death threats to me through his numerous Facebook entries.

“In one widely circulated status, he writes, ‘Avijit Roy lives in America and so, it is not possible to kill him right now. But he will be murdered when he comes back.'”

The killing in early 2013 of another secular blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, which was blamed on religious hardliners, sparked protests from free-speech supporters and counter-protests from Islamists.

The police say the attack on Mr Roy was similar to the 2013 murder.

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Avijit Roy

  • Founded Mukto-Mona (“Free Mind”) blog site in 2000 to champion secular and humanist writing in Muslim-majority Bangladesh
  • Bangladeshi-born US citizen on visit to Bangladesh
  • Engineer by profession
  • Received recent death threats from Islamist radicals for his writings, family say
  • “He was a thinker, he was a man of great knowledge, he was a scientist, he was an engineer” – close friend and Dhaka University professor Anwar Hossain
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Death threats against atheist writers and bloggers are nothing new in Bangladesh.

Prominent writer Taslima Nasreen had to leave Bangladesh after she received death threats from hard-line Islamists in the mid-1990s.

She wrote on her blog: “Avijit Roy has been killed the way other free thinker writers were killed in Bangladesh. No free thinker is safe in Bangladesh.

“Islamic terrorists can do whatever they like. They can kill people with no qualms whatsoever.”

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Mother-in-law jokes in Mogadishu: satirist shows other side of Somalia

mmmmUgaaso Boocow, above, posts everything from social satires of Somali family life to photos of Mogadishu on Instagram. Photograph: Ugaaso Boocow/Instagram

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A mother is justifying her son’s divorce, absolving him from all blame. “These girls of 2014 are wasteful youths,” she says, talking on the phone and shaking her head. “The one my son Weheliye was married to, all that one knew of cooking was cornflakes. I told him: ‘Divorce this one, she’s garbage!’ Now you should see how he’s put on weight and has gotten more handsome.”

The comedy video cuts to a singing, dancing young man with model looks and a six pack. The humour is universal but also very specific: the sketch, “How Somali mother-in-laws justify their son’s divorce”, is the work of a young Somali woman bringing light relief to a country traumatised by war.

Ugaaso Boocow, 27, is becoming one of the country’s first social media stars with more than 50,000 followers on Instagram. She posts everything from social satires of Somali family life to photos of Mogadishu’s buildings, beaches and restaurants as the city slowly heals. There are also glamorous pictures of Boocow herself in brightly coloured hijabs, including a recent one from Valentine’s Day featuring her husband with flowers and teddy bear.

“Comedy, like any form of art, is a way to tell a story,” she said. “I’m just telling a lighthearted story but comedy has a way of showing you your flaws and what’s wrong with society. You’re laughing at it knowingly because it’s true.”

Boocow is among thousands of Somali expats who have returned home since the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab was prised from Mogadishu in 2011. She was two years old when she left for Canada with her grandmother in the early 1990s as the country descended into two decades of civil war and chaos. Her parents divorced at a young age and, while her father also moved to Canada, her mother stayed behind.

Boocow grew up in Toronto, gained a geography degree, and lived in Colombia for two years but still felt the tug of her birthplace. On returning to Canada, she met an uncle who assured her Somalia’s security was much improved. She decided to go back last year and see her mother for the first time in almost a quarter of a century, though the two had kept in contact by phone.

“I thought I’d feel hurt, like I would have an outburst, making her feel ashamed for abandoning me,” Boocow recalled. “But I was so tired after the journey that I just felt relieved. It was like: ‘Can we go home now?’”

Then there was the impact of Somalia itself. “I was very happy to come back. I’d decided to come and see it with my own eyes. When I saw the ruined buildings, I felt hope that we could rebuild them. I had zero memories but storytelling has a way of putting pictures in your head. I felt like I belonged. I did not feel like an outsider. Even though I didn’t know the streets, I felt like I knew where I was going.”

Mogadishu is in the throes of a construction boom with money pouring in from Turkey and other donors and a dawning sense of hope, despite recent setbacks such as the suicide bombing of a hotel.

“It’s a moment where you have to take advantage of what’s happening here,” mused Boocow, who fell in love and married soon after arriving. “Since I arrived here I haven’t heard a single bullet go off and I’ve only heard one explosion. But my father has a completely different perspective. He’s really scared and doesn’t want to come to Somalia.”

When Boocow searched for Somalia on Instagram, she would be met by images of cows, sheep and grass. She took up her camera and set about showing a different side, snapping dishes of food and the haunting beauty of Mogadishu’s many half-collapsed buildings. “I think people are hungry for these things, like me.

“Al-Shabaab are still roaming around freely and people generally don’t like to have their faces photographed, so I take pictures of the ruins. They make me nostalgic. I remember my grandmother’s stories: this used to be a university or that used to be a prominent edifice. It makes me imagine how the city would have looked if the war didn’t happen.”

She is also making the tongue-in-cheek videos in which she performs in Somali sprinkled with Arabic, Italian and English. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. “It makes me happy that I make people laugh. They write to me and say they can relate to it. I was so surprised I have an audience here in Mogadishu. Quite recently a girl here contacted me to ask if I could be her wedding photographer. The minister of finance came up to my husband and said, ‘I love your wife’s videos, tell her to keep up the good work!’”

Yet Boocow, who works as a civil servant, admitted: “I’m extremely reserved in real life and very shy. I get very embarrassed when people come up and say: ‘I love that video you did.’”

Many of the sketches focus on the character of a Somali mother and say something about the role of women in society. Boocow explained: “Inside the household the woman is revered but the moment she gets ambitious and wants to go into the political sphere, it’s: ‘No, you can’t do that.’

“They think women have a certain place in the culture. If I don’t think it’s right, I have a responsibility to speak against it, for example by using comedy. I’m not banging a drum; it’s always goofy and silly and not serious, but it should be taken seriously.”

Her next ambition is to organise a comedy night. Laughter is a much-needed medicine in Somalia, she believes, after the long years when all roads led to despair. “Somalis have a great sense of humour. They’re able to laugh at each other and with each other. Somalis will make fun of you but they don’t want you to take it in a vicious way. If you have a big nose, for instance, they’ll give a nickname like ‘Mr Longnose’ and use it every time they see you.”

 

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Somali-Americans in Minneapolis condemn terror threats, promote positivity

0000A group of Somali community leaders leave the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood for a solidarity lunch at Mall of America.

01by Mike Durkin
Saturday, February 28, 2015

 

MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) – The East African community of Minneapolis is coming together at the Brian Coyle Community Center to discuss how threats of terrorism and recruitment by al-Shabaab and ISIS are overshadowing the positive work of Somali-Americans and Muslim-Americans.
Community leaders will once again publicly condemn last weekend’s video from the al-Qaeda linked terror group al-Shabaab that called for attacks on Western shopping centers, and specifically Mall of America.

On Tuesday, a group left the Brian Coyle Center and boarded a light rail train to Mall of America, where they had lunch to prove “there is nothing to be afraid of.” Somali community leader Omar Jamal believes al-Shabaab is desperate to use scare tactics like the video to divide Muslims and Somalis in the United States.

“I’d like to tell Minnesotans, do not fall for this propaganda from the al-Shabaab machine,” Jamal said. “It is not going to work. All they’re looking for is attention.”

Statement from Somali-American leaders in Minnesota (Feb. 23)

“The safety and security of Minnesotans and of all Americans is of utmost importance to Somali-Americans. We condemn all forms of terrorism or threats of terrorism, repudiate any individual or group that would carry out such attacks or make such threats and remain committed to being at the forefront of defeating religious or political extremism. While remaining vigilant, we must not allow a terror group to achieve its goal of spreading fear or panic. We must also prevent justifiable security concerns from being used as a pretext to promote hatred, prejudice and suspicion of the whole community. As a nation, we are better prepared and more united when we all work together to keep our communities safe.”

 

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Blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh capital

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Writer’s wife seriously wounded as pair attacked after attending book fair at Dhaka University.

Police say unidentified attackers have hacked a prominent US blogger to death in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka.

Police on Friday said that Avijit Roy, a Bangladesh-born US citizen, known for this writing against religious fundamentalism, and wife Rafida Ahmed, were attacked after a visit to a book fair at Dhaka University.

Ahmed, also a blogger, sustained severe injuries in Thursday’s attack.

Sirajul Islam, a local police chief, told The Associated Press news agency the assailants used cleavers to attack the couple.

“Several attackers took part in the attack and at least two assailants hit them directly,” Islam said, adding that two blood-stained cleavers were found after the attack.

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 Previous attacks have been blamed on religious fanatics [AFP]

Roy had founded a popular Bengali-language blog – Mukto-mona, or Free Mind – in which articles on scientific reasoning and religious extremism featured prominently.

It was not known who was behind the attack, but Roy’s family and friends say he was a prominent voice against religious fanatics and has faced threats in the past.

Anujit Roy, his younger brother, says Roy had returned to the country earlier this month and was planning to return there next month.

Similar attacks have previously taken place in Bangladesh.

Investigators have said religious fanatics were behind those attacks. In 2013, another blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, who also spoke out against religious fanatics, was killed by unidentified assailants near his home in Dhaka.

Source: Agencies

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Saudi Women Still Can’t Drive, But They Are Making It To Work

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Saudi women, shown here at a cultural festival near the capital Riyadh on Sunday, still need the permission of male relatives to travel and even receive certain medical procedures, but a growing number are entering the workforce.

Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

 

The sign on the door to the office of eTree, an online advertising agency in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, reads: “Girls Only.”

The company’s founder, Esra Assery, admits it’s a little sexist, and we both laugh at the joke in male-dominated Saudi Arabia — the only country that prohibits women from driving a car.

Getting a job isn’t easy either, with the country’s conservative traditions and gender segregation, but Saudi women are entering the workforce in larger numbers than ever before.

Nowhere is that more striking than at companies like eTree, which Assery, 30, founded in 2011.

The open workspace looks a lot like a college dorm: desk clutter, potted plants, family pictures and a snack table with chips and chocolate.

Assery says she recruits women exclusively because they are more motivated than Saudi men.

In this deeply conservative country, a woman needs permission from a male guardian to travel, for education, even for some medical procedures. But when it comes to business, men and women are equal under the law, Assery says.

Esra Assery, 30, founded eTree, an online advertising agency in Riyadh, in 2011. The all-female company has a staff of more than 30 and Assery has plans to expand. Saudi women must be fully covered in public, but in an all-female office, they are not required to have a headscarf or an abaya, the robe-like dress.

Esra Assery, 30, founded eTree, an online advertising agency in Riyadh, in 2011. The all-female company has a staff of more than 30 and Assery has plans to expand. Saudi women must be fully covered in public, but in an all-female office, they are not required to have a headscarf or an abaya, the robe-like dress.

Deborah Amos/NPR

She has built a $15-million business based on understanding social media, which is huge here — 8 million Facebook users, 3 million on Twitter — and growing fast.

“[Twitter] is where people discuss their thoughts, people spend time hanging out. It gives you an indication of the trends that are happening,” Assery says. “Everything that is happening in Saudi is there on Twitter.”

Her clients want to reach that social media audience. They want to build their brands online, and that’s the business Assery has tapped into.

“I wanted to do it because no one else was doing it. There was a huge demand in the market for that,” she says. “And then, of course, to start and create jobs for locals. It’s 100 percent Saudi, 100 percent run by Saudi females. So, it’s a commitment to create jobs for Saudi females.”

It’s a commitment the government backs. The policy is called Saudization, and it aims to replace the huge number of foreign workers. The government has set quotas, and private businesses are required to hire more Saudis.

Still, unemployment among Saudi women is five times higher than for men.

That makes eTree unique — the first Internet startup company with an all-female staff. Jihad al-Ammar, an INVESTMENT manager, advises Mobily, a large telecom company, on startups. He has worked with Assery and her eTree staff.

“They definitely seem to have their own vibe, their own voice, and they are excellent,” he says.

Rasha Abu Samra works in the office of eTree, an online advertising firm. Women outpace men when it comes to advanced degrees in Saudi Arabia, but the rate of unemployment among women is much higher than for men.

Rasha Abu Samra works in the office of eTree, an online advertising firm. Women outpace men when it comes to advanced degrees in Saudi Arabia, but the rate of unemployment among women is much higher than for men.

Deborah Amos/NPR

That excellence may have something to do with another startling statistic: Saudi women are the majority of college graduates, and they hold more advanced degrees than men.

But there are still limited opportunities for women. Internet startups alone won’t fill the gap, Ammar says.

That doesn’t stop the all-female team at eTree, which is moving to a bigger office soon. Assery says she will hire more women and add to the three dozen already on staff. She has installed a massage chair in the office to reduce the work stress.

Companies like eTree are one sign that the workplace is expanding for women.

A newspaper headline this week is another: Some women are forced to share their earnings with their husband. The issue is now part of the national conversation. In this traditional society, men manage all the household expenses. But now, Saudi women say a working wife should be able to spend what she earns.

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Police look for answers after Sumaya Dalmar, a Toronto transgender woman found dead

45454545Sumaya was found dead on Feb. 22 in Toronto’s east end
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Sumaya Dalmar, a 26-year-old transgender woman, was found dead on Sunday in Toronto’s east end. Described as a “bold, brave and brilliant young woman who loved her friends fiercely,” members of both Toronto’s LGBT and Somali communities are mourning her loss.Though police say her death has been ruled not a homicide, posts saying Dalmar — who was also known as Sumaya Ysl — was a victim of murder spread quickly on social media. They asked why there had been no statement from police, why there was no media coverage and how the death of yet another trans woman of colour could be met with such silence.

In cases of “sudden death,” police do not typically release details of either the victim or the circumstances surrounding their death. In this case, however, police released a statement after requests for information.

On Tuesday afternoon, Toronto Police posted a statement to Facebook saying Dalmar was found unresponsive after a call from the Danforth Road and Main Street area. They said autopsy results were inconclusive and toxicology tests are pending.

“To protect the privacy of the victim, no further details on the cause of death will be released,” the statement said.

“At this time, we have no evidence to indicate the death is suspicious. If the investigation leads us to believe otherwise, we will provide an update.”

Toronto Police Services spokesperson Meaghan Gray told the National Post the statement was in direct response to messages on social media, as well as calls to staff.

“We certainly are sensitive to the relationship between the Toronto Police Service and the trans communities. We’ve worked very hard over the last little while to improve that relationship,” said Gray.

“Certainly our efforts today in putting out this information is part and parcel of that outreach.”

She confirmed the investigation is ongoing and anyone with information is encouraged to contact either 55 Division’s Criminal Investigations Branch or Crime Stoppers.

It is not without reason that some believe Dalmar could have been murdered, despite what police have said. At least seven trans women — nearly one per week — have been murdered in the U.S. since the year began, according to The Advocate. Most of them were women of colour.

A survey released in 2011 by the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found high levels of violence reported by trans or otherwise non-gender conforming Americans. Of the 6,450 people surveyed, 61% said they’d been victims of physical assault and 64% said they’d been the victim of sexual assault. Forty-one per cent said they’d attempted suicide.

Keeping statistics on murder can be difficult as police services and media outlets often misgender victims or include their legal name, but not their chosen name. In the case of Penny Proud, a 21-year-old woman shot to death in New Orleans two weeks ago, initial police reports identified Proud as male. Local media then followed suit.

In Toronto, police records may only identify people based on what their government-issued identification says, though do provide training that encourages preferred gender to be included. Cases of misgendering are corrected on a case-by-case basis.

A memorial has been planned for Dalmar on March 3 at The 519 community centre.

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Take action to Orange your day

#orangeurhood Laos

The UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, managed by UN Women, has proclaimed every 25th of the month as “Orange Day” – a day to take action to raise awareness and prevent violence against women and girls.

Dos personas saltando con pantalones naranjos #orangeurworld

Initiated and led by the UNiTE campaign Global Youth Network, Orange Day calls upon activists, governments and UN partners to mobilize people and highlight issues relevant to preventing and ending violence against women and girls, not only once a year, on 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women), but every month.

2015

The year 2015 marks the 20-year anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most progressive road map to gender equality. World leaders will meet in March at the United Nations 59th Commission on the Status of Women to take stock of the progress made and commit to take actions to close the gaps that are holding women and girls back. This is also the year when a new development framework will come in to replace the Millennium Development Goals. The elimination of violence against women and girls must be a centrepiece of the new development agenda.

2015 Orange Day themes

25 February – Twenty-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action: how far have we come in efforts to end violence against women and girls?
Sign up for news and action alerts here! Follow @SayNO_UNiTE on Twitter. Likehttps://www.facebook.com/SayNO.UNiTE on Facebook.

 

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