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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Monday, October 23, 2017

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Taslima Nasrin Moved to US Following Death Threats in India

Taslima relocated from Second Home

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PHOTO CREDIT: BNN/AP/VoA news

KOLKATTA - Controversial exiled Bangladeshi feminist author Taslima Nasrin, who moved to India in 2004 and announced later that it was the country where she had her "second home," has been relocated to the United States by a U.S.-based advocacy group known for its support of secular and humanist writers. This follows new death threats she received recently.

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In a statement, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Inquiry said this week that Nasrin had been named as one of the next targets for murder by al-Qaida-linked extremist groups in Bangladesh, which prompted the organization to assist her in moving to safety in the U.S., "alleviating the immediate threat to her life."

"Because of the very real danger to her life, Taslima has decided to leave India. We at the Center for Inquiry are doing all we can to keep her out of harm's way," a CFI statement said.

With the assistance of CFI, the 52-year-old author reached the U.S. on May 27 after leaving New Delhi, where she had lived in an Indian government-provided safehouse for years.

CFI, which is acting as Nasrin's host in the U.S., has established a fund and sought donations from its supporters to pay for the author's expenses there.

"Her safety is only temporary if she cannot remain in the U.S., however, which is why CFI has established an emergency fund to help with food, housing, and the means for her to be safely settled," the CFI said.

A medical doctor-turned-writer, Nasrin was forced to flee Muslim-majority Bangladesh in 1994 after her debut novel Lajja was banned. In it, she called for changes in the Quran and some antagonized Bangladeshi Muslim groups issued death threats against her.

But after spending 10 years in Europe and the U.S., where she said she "badly missed Bengali language and culture," she grew "tired of the West," and moved to India in 2004 with a hope that she could live in peace in the country where Muslims are in the minority.

In 2005, she rented a house in Kolkata, and set up what she called her "second home," planning to live in the region where people speak Bengali, the language in which she writes.

But in India, too, Muslims got angry with her writing that they alleged ridiculed Islam and vilified the Prophet Muhammad.

In 2007, after Muslim groups violently demonstrated on the streets of Kolkata demanding her expulsion from the country, and a Muslim cleric in the city announced a bounty on her head, Indian authorities shifted her to a safehouse in Delhi where she had lived until last week. And her year-long residence permit was regularly renewed by the Indian government.

After the Communists were ousted from power in West Bengal state, of which Kolkata is the capital, the author made several attempts to return to Kolkata. But the new Trinamool Congress party-led government of the state refused to let her return.

In April, while she was living in the safehouse in Delhi, Nasrin said to the newspaper Mail Today that a hit squad of the Bangladeshi terrorist group Ansarullah Bangla Team - which claimed responsibility for the killing of Bangladeshi-American blogger and author Avijit Roy- was plotting to cross over to India to kill her.

Apparently concerned for her safety, she sought to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But that effort failed.

In 2013, some Bangladeshi Islamists issued a list of 84 bloggers and freethinkers and announced that they would kill them all because, they said, they abused Islam. Nasrin said her name figured on that hit list.

Paul Fidalgo, communications director of CFI, said his group got concerned after learning of death threats Nasrin received in recent weeks.

"Dr. Nasrin did not come to us for help. The fact that she was being targeted was public knowledge, and reported in news media at least in India. In consultation with friends and fellow activists, we decided that this was something that needed to be done, and then we reached out to her and offered our assistance," Fidalgo said to VOA.

CFI says it hopes to help other writers or bloggers caught in situations identical to Nasrin's. Nasrin has said she intends to return to India when she feels safe.

Muslim community leaders say Nasrin will be able to live in peace if she desists from hurting the sentiments of Muslims.

"We are strongly in favor of protecting freedom of speech and expression of any individual and we have always strived for it. But we are against the misuse of this freedom when it hurts the sentiments of any individual or group," Mohammad Salim Engineer, secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, said to VOA. "We are also against the people who issue death threats against anyone."

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