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Hugo Swire

Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Part of FCDO Outreach

14th August 2015 London, UK

Freedom of speech is a right to be defended

One week ago today, a blogger called Niloy Neel was hacked to death in Bangladesh. He was the fourth blogger to be murdered there this year. I’ve been meaning to start my own blog for some time: last week’s events made me determined that I shouldn’t put it off any longer. Freedom of speech is a right to be defended.

Not everyone agrees. A group called Ansar Al Islam claimed responsibility and said: “If your ‘freedom of speech’ maintains no limits, then widen your chests for the ‘freedom of our machetes’”.

This is extremism above all because it shows both extreme cowardice and extreme ignorance.  Cowardice because five men with machetes put a single unarmed man to death.  And ignorance because if you have good enough arguments, you really don’t need to resort to murder.  Freedom of speech is only a threat to false and misleading ideas.  In that sense, the four bloggers – Niloy Neel, Avijit Roy, Oyasiqur Rahman and Antana Bijoy Das – are already vindicated in what they stood for.

It’s very much in Britain’s interests that the rotten seeds of this type of extremism are not allowed to take root in Bangladesh. We have an important shared history – we were the first European country to recognise Bangladesh’s independence and the first country to receive its first Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – and there are still very close links between our peoples today.  Half a million people of Bangladeshi origin live in the UK and have enriched our society in many ways.  In my own world of politics, I am delighted that there are now Members with Bangladeshi heritage in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

We have shared interests for example in defeating poverty, in tackling climate change and in boosting trade.  A stable and democratic Bangladesh is an important international partner for the UK.

So that is why, as I said in my statement last week, it’s important for us too that these pernicious issues are dealt with urgently: that the perpetrators of these horrific crimes are brought to justice and that the flawed and cowardly ideas behind them are exposed for what they are. I welcome the arrest today by the Bangladeshi authorities of two suspects in the murder.

Bangladesh is a secular country. It has a rich tradition of freedom and religious tolerance.  That should be commended, and protected.  And no one should have to be afraid to say so.