(Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Biraj)
A number of major atheist organizations have been put in a tough spot over planned protests against Bangladesh, after the country suffered a national disaster on Wednesday that left hundreds of people dead.
American Atheists and secular groups from around the world had planned to protest on Thursday outside of Bengali embassies around the world over the arrest and imprisonment of several atheist bloggers. The South Asian country, which is heavily Muslim, has been cracking down on those criticizing the faith and the government, accusing them of blasphemy and insulting Islam.
The country declared a national day of mourning on Thursday, however, after a massive building collapse in Bangladesh that left over 230 dead and 1,000 injured, with workers still digging out survivors from the incident. As a consequence, a number of planned rallies in support of the atheist bloggers have now been pushed back, but others have continued.
America's most prominent secular group, American Atheists, insisted that the tragedy should not hold back efforts to raise awareness for the persecuted nonbelievers currently in jail and in danger.
"My decision to continue ... is based on the fact that I feel this is an urgent problem," AA President David Silverman said. "People are in jail for doing nothing but self expression, and that is wholly immoral. This protest is weeks in the making, international in scope, and we aren't canceling it because of an impromptu day of mourning imposed by the very people imprisoning atheists like us."
Protests went on in U.S. cities like Washington, D.C., New York and Columbia, Mo., but scheduled rallies in London, Ottawa, Calgary, Toronto and Dhaka were postponed until May 2.
While AA and the Secular Coalition continued leading the protests, other atheist groups like the Center for Inquiry, CFI-Canada, and the British Humanist Association decided that it would be best to hold off on them for now.
"All sides had good reasons for the decisions they made, and it was not an easy call for anyone," CFI explained in a statement on Thursday.
"A primary factor in the decision to postpone came down to the fact that at the embassies and consulates at which we'd be protesting, there might very well be friends and relatives of those killed or injured in the collapse, all trying to get information, send messages, and the like. With their feelings in mind, and the fact that the officials' attentions would be so firmly on their own country's disaster, we thought it best to move the protest later to when it would have more of its own space."
The disaster on Wednesday occurred after 2,000 workers failed to evacuate an unstable eight-story building, despite earlier warnings. The Freethought Blog argued that much like their inability to protect atheists' rights in Bangladesh, government officials had failed to protect the people from the disaster.
"In both these cases, the Government has failed to defend fundamental rights. Unfortunately, it is too late for the many garment factory workers. But there is still time to save Bangladesh's bloggers. The Government must act before it is too late," the blog states. "Whilst we remember the dead, we must also remember those who are fighting to live."