SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: November 10, 2015

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):University of Dhaka

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Bangladesh

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 10, 2015, Professor Anisuzzaman, a professor emeritus in the Bengali Department of the University of Dhaka, received a death threat by text message from an unknown number, shortly after making a public statement condemning violent attacks against supporters of secularism.

Professor Anisuzzaman (who only uses a single name), has long been an outspoken supporter of secularism and has written extensively on secularist issues.  In response to a series of violent incidents in which four secular bloggers, as well as a publisher of secularist materials, were killed by attackers wielding machetes, Professor Anisuzzman, along with other Bengali academics and journalists, released a joint statement condemning attacks on supporters of secularism, and urging the government to take immediate action in response.  The statement criticized Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her response to the violence, and called for the arrest and prosecution of the people responsible for the killings.

Professor Anisuzzaman and his colleagues issued their public statement on November 10, and at around 4:30 p.m., following its publication, he received a text message, challenging his support for the bloggers, and asking whether he wanted “to die and scream with pain in face of machete attack.”  After receiving the message, Anisuzzaman filed a police report at the Gulshan Police Station.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about targeted death threats against scholars. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and freedom of expression. State authorities have a responsibility to ensure the security of academic communities, to prevent violence and to respond quickly when it is threatened, and to ensure that those responsible for threats of violence are held accountable for their actions.