Top authors urge Bangladesh government to halt blogger attacks

DHAKA (AFP) - Leading authors, including Salman Rushdie and fellow Booker prize winners Margaret Atwood and Yann Martell, called on Bangladesh's government on Friday to put an end to a spate of deadly attacks on atheist bloggers.

Three bloggers have been hacked to death by suspected Islamist militants since February, with the latest victim, Ananta Bijoy Das, attacked with machetes during morning rush hour in the city of Sylhet earlier this month.

In a petition published in the London-based daily The Guardian, 150 authors called on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina 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".

"We are gravely concerned by this escalating pattern of violence against writers and journalists who are peacefully expressing their views," said the petition.

"Freedom of expression is a fundamental right under Bangladesh's constitution and under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Bangladesh is an officially secular country but more than 90 per cent of its 160 million population are Muslim.

The country has seen a rise in attacks by religious extremists in recent years, with the attacks on the bloggers drawing widespread criticism that a culture of impunity has been allowed to flourish.

Rushdie spent a decade in hiding after Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for his death over his book The Satanic Verses, which was seen as mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

Other signatories included the leading Indian authors Amitav Ghosh and Rohinton Mistry along with the Irish writer Colm Toibin and Norway's Karl Ove Knausgaard.