By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
DHAKA/HONG KONG (BosNewsLife)– Bangladesh has reportedly blocked the website of leading Christian rights activist, author and journalist William Nicholas Gomes, who now lives in exile amid fears of repercussions.
Speaking from his hiding place in Hong Kong, he told BosNewsLife Sunday, May 27, that the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina became upset about his writings, including a critical poem on injustices in the impoverished Asian nation.
In his poem ‘Anti state’ he wrote among other words “I am against the state, which runs on the bases of injustices, I am against the state which comes out of killings.”
Soon after, authorities allegedly shut down the influential site. “My website has been blocked in Bangladesh – people can not see my site,” he explained.
The activist said he is moving his williamgomes.org website to another “save location” within the next few weeks to reach Bangladesh again and that it therefore can’t currently be seen elsewhere in the world.
Gomes, 28, stressed that authorities also plan to file “sedition” charges against him. There was no immediate response from officials.
“I believe that censorship is a possible way for the powerful to terminate individualism and promotes governmental coercion and totalitarianism,” Gomes complained.
He acknowledged that “some people urge that restrictions are valid only if they are for the sake of a greater good, a greater liberty.” However, “I believe that Censorship is a restriction that is not for greater liberty, but for the deprivation of liberty.”
The activist asked the prime minister “to remove the block and publicly apologize for this heinous act.”
Gomes lives in Hong Kong since last year when he reportedly fled his native Bangladesh after being detained and tortured by members of Bangladesh’s government-backed Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a police elite force.
He was eventually freed, but rights group Amnesty International said at least 200 others were killed by the RAB since 2009, when Prime Minister Hasina took office.
Gomes believes he was targeted by officials in Bangladesh because he traveled throughout the country to investigate racial discrimination and other human rights violations in villages on behalf of the independent Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a group of jurists and activists.
He also covered religious rights issues as a reporter for Catholic news agency AsiaNews.
While traveling, the former Muslim, made it a point to pray and speak with people about his new-found faith in Christ. “While walking over often muddy roads, I prayed that each home would become part of the Body of Christ, His Church,” he told BosNewsLife in an earlier interview.
But as 90 percent of Bangladesh’s 142 million people are Muslims, preaching or tackling religious rights issues can lead to difficulties for minority Christians because of strict Islamic authorities, he and other activists suggested.
Though the website remains closed, Gomes said he was thankful to other Asian Christians for helping him, including “the Pakistan Christian community”, who have also complained about persecution under blasphemy laws.
“I condemn persecution of religious communities in Bangladesh,” Nazir Bhatti, who heads Christian party Pakistan Christian Congress, a major political force in Pakistan.
“[I] urge Prime Minister Hassina…to make Bangladesh a truly Peoples Republic that equality may be observed among Muslims and Christians and other minorities” he added in a statement seen by BosNewsLife.
Gomes is staying in Hong Kong without his young wife Annie Jhumur Halder and two small sons, Felix Eugene and Lalon Mark, who he said have been prevented from joining him.
Despite the difficulties, he pledged not to back-down in his fight for true democracy and human rights and would continue to spread his Christian faith. “I am only bowing for God.”
The reported difficulties faced by Gomes comes amid international concerns about the rights situation in Bangladesh.
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in Dhaka that Washington is “betting on Bangladesh.”
“That’s why it’s very important to us to continue to urge the hard decisions that are necessary for the rule of law, for transparency,” Clinton said following the disappearance of an opposition leader.
“We don’t want to see any faltering or flagging. We want to see democracy flourish in Bangladesh,” she said ahead of talks with Prime Minister Hasina and her opposition rival, Begum Khaleda Zia.
Gomes said he has received messages from support from the United States and other countries and that several activists and writers help him to continue publishing in several websites and other media.