Monir Hussein is Bangladeshi blogger, writer and secular-humanist activist. He was close friends with the late Ananta Bijoy Das a secular blogger with whom Monir founded the Science and Rationalist Council. Ananta was killed on May 12 by Islamists wielding machetes.
Monir's name was listed along with 84 others on a hit-list of secular activists and bloggers distributed by Islamist groups. He has received multiple death threats and phone calls. He lives on the run.
For security reasons he was unable to provide us with a picture.
He graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project Research Fellow Elliot Friedland about his life on the run and why he feels compelled to keep writing.
Clarion Project: You are living under fear of your life. What is life like on the run? How do you cope with the fear?
Monir Hussein: I have been hiding since Ananta was killed on the 12th May in the broad daylight. Life is like I have committed some terrible crime and now hiding to escape capital punishment. Wherever I go, I have to confine myself in a room that is no different from a prison cell. I am afraid to go out. I have even lost my courage to look back at the faces who look at me. I cannot sleep and sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night having the nightmare that 2 or 3 people are chasing me in broad daylight with machetes in their hands.
Clarion: You co-founded the Science and Rationalist Council with the late Ananta Bijoy Das. What was the organization set up to do?
Hussein: As you know, this part of the world is not open like the West and people are bound not to question the status quo. So we have decided to spread the value of the freedom of expression: thus was the organization formed.
The main goal of the organization is to promote free thinking, freedom of expression, secularism, humanism, gender inequality, human rights, atheism, and science & logic. This will lead us to cement the base of a free society by promoting awareness against the evils.
Therefore we have arranged lectures, question and answer session for students in many schools and colleges. We also published a science-oriented journal named "Jukti" (Logic) regularly.
Clarion Project: You had lunch with Ananta when he was applying for a visa to escape Bangladesh to Sweden. Was he hopeful about getting his visa? What were his plans?
Hussein: Ananta applied for a Swedish visa for the second time, 26th April, to attend a program arranged and invited by PEN, Swedish branch of the organization of worldwide writers.
He was without hope after the visa interview because the embassy denied him a visa 2 years ago. And this time the officer reminded him why his application was denied the first time.
Ananta and I shared everything with each other since we started working together for the organization. He was aware of the threats and we always advised each other to stop writing and hide but we could not.
He used to tell me, "Monir, I may not escape from them, but you must, because they are after us." His plan was to work hard to promote the value of the freedom of expression worldwide.
Clarion: What would you say if you could speak to the official who made the decision to deny his visa?
Hussein: Well, this is a significant question because the law does not work when we need it most. For example, the law for an asylum seeker is really tough. The law says that you have to be in the country or at the border of the country to be eligible to apply for asylum.
This is effectively saying: I will save your life if you come to me, and this is funny! Now, according to the law, I cannot apply for asylum from within my country. So, how could I go to another country if they deny a simple visit visa?
However, I would love to tell them that their duty is to release a press note stating "we are sorry" after someone is dead. Is this how the value of humanism works?
Clarion: Do you have plans to leave Bangladesh? Is there a particular country that you would like to travel to?
Hussein: I am trying to leave Bangladesh as quickly as I can. Because if I stay in Bangladesh they will find me and kill me and the law will do nothing. Therefore, I am contacting international organizations to get me out of this country. And they are trying their best. I want to go to a country where I could feel safe and where I can express my thoughts.
So, I would like to go Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Finland, or Norway because they demonstrate the highest values of individualism and freedom of expression.
Clarion: You have been receiving death threats for years, ever since you started writing about these topics. What gave you the strength to continue writing despite the imminent and credible threats to your life?
Hussein: I live in a society that is trying to go back to the middle-ages while the world is exploring the galaxies and other planets. I live in a society where people are looking for a fatwa in their so-called holy books that lets them beat their wives while women are running countries. I live in a society where children are taught that their god is the only true god and the rest are evil and the followers of the other gods are your enemy. I have seen hatred in their eyes for one who differs in opinion. To me, each and every single life is valuable in this earth and everyone has a right to live and express their opinion.
What kind of liberty is it if I cannot express what I think! What kind of freedom is it if I cannot choose a life to live.
How long will I live? 60 or 70 years naturally, or perhaps a few more years. But why and what am I doing in this world? To enjoy the ignorance and hatred among people? Or to enjoy killing of one person by another?
The answer is a big NO.
I am alive and that in itself is amazing. I have a duty to perform. I have to do something for the betterment of the society so that the upcoming generation can have a better life that is full of love and passion. We can not live alone and we must help each other. Otherwise, the world would be the HELL where one will kill his brother without any reason or simply because of some fascile disagreement.
Is it something we want? No. So, we have to work with each other. And I am doing so.
This is what gives me the strength to continue writing despite the imminent and credible threats to my life.
If you are able to help Monir Hussein escape Bangladesh please be in contact with [email protected] and we will help.