Over the past decade, escalating extremist violence and autocratization in Bangladesh have increasingly threatened the livelihoods and liberties of scholars, students, and researchers in the country. Freedom House’s most recent report on Bangladesh rated the status of academic freedom in the country as a 1 out of 4 in part due to the oppressive tactics deployed by the Awami League, a political party that has ruled the country since 2009. Led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the party has widely aimed to suppress political dissent and promote loyalists of the Awami League to leadership positions within higher education, compromising the integrity of university administrations and perpetuating the regime’s clamp on the freedoms of speech, assembly, and association across university campuses.
The subsequent decline of Bangladeshi academic freedom has been further exacerbated by the widespread physical violence targeted against academics. Several scholars and students have been heinously murdered in recent years for expressing secular viewpoints or political positions that stand against the ruling party. In 2016, Professor Rezaul Karim Siddique, a scholar of English at Rajshahi University, was murdered by members of an extremist religious group, Islamic State, for his active involvement in music and the arts which the group claimed was akin to “calling for atheism”. Abrar Fahad, an engineering student at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, was also murdered in 2019 by members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League, a political student group affiliated with the Awami League, after he criticized Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Facebook.
The pervasive “culture of fear” within Bangladeshi academia, bolstered by these acts of violence, has subsequently discouraged free democratic debate on university campuses and across social media. Scholars at Risk has reported that over the past three years, student protests calling attention to the documented abuses against their peers and professors have been met with increasing violence from the police and even extremist student groups who stand with the ruling party. In February 2021, for instance, Bangladeshi students demonstrating against the country’s higher education policies were attacked by police with batons. Then again, in October 2022, a student group at the University of Dhaka gathering to memorialize the life of former student Abrar Fahad was attacked by other students affiliated with the Bangladesh Chhatra League, leading to at least a dozen injuries and arrests.
Furthermore, professors employed at government universities were officially prohibited in 2020 from posting or engaging with posts that could be perceived as “tarnishing the government’s image” or “disrupting national unity”. The law has enabled the government to arrest and expel multiple academics from their positions for expressing their political views criticizing the government online, particularly over the regime’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, a professor of computer engineering, Dr. Kazi Zahidur Rahman, was arrested at Rajshahi University and later suspended from teaching after he was reported to the authorities for speaking out against corruption within the health sector. Two additional academics, Kazi Zakia Ferdousi and Shahadat Ullah Kayser, were suspended after calling attention to the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) available to healthcare workers combating the spread of the disease in the nation’s hospitals.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) remains deeply concerned for the livelihoods of scholars, students, and other intellectuals in Bangladesh who have been threatened with violence, unemployment, and censorship by the ruling party and other extremist religious and political groups. ESW joins Scholars at Risk and Human Rights Watch in calling attention to these abuses of human rights and infringements on guaranteed freedoms, which are protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Bangladesh is a signatory. We call upon all international organizations, academic and professional associations, and other groups and individuals devoted to the promotion and defense of human rights and academic freedom to strongly protest and condemn the egregious violence perpetrated against scholars and students and enabled by the ruling party; to demand that Bangladeshi professors who were suspended from their academic positions for peacefully expressing their views on social media be reinstated to their roles; and to call for the government to restore autonomy to universities by remanding their autocratic policies infringing on academic freedoms.
(Last updated: April 12 , 2023)
Please send appeals to the following:
Ambassador Muhammad Imran
Embassy of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
3510 International Drive, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Ambassador Muhammad Abdul Muhith
Permanent Representative of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
820 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10017
Phone: (212) 867-3434
 “Bangladesh Country Profile,” Freedom House, 2023.
 “Rezaul Karim Siddique Murdered Bangladeshi professor 'not an atheist', daughter says.” BBC News. April 2016.
 Rahman, Shaikh Azizur. “Experts Doubt Bangladesh Student Murder Convicts Will Serve Harsh Sentences.” VOA News. December 11, 2021.
 Hasan, Mubashar, and Nazmul Ahasan. "Academic Freedom in Bangladesh." In University Autonomy Decline, pp. 38-63. Routledge, 2022.
 Wadud, Mushfique. “Concern over attacks on peaceful activism of scholars, students.” University World News. December 11 2021.
 Scholars at Risk Report, October 7 2022.
 Scholars at Risk Report. June 18, 2020.
 Scholars at Risk Report. March 27, 2020.