Free Taslima Nasrin

January 1, 1994

Letter to the Editors

I am writing in response to the Dec. 11 news story on Taslima Nasrin, the Bangladeshi feminist writer under death threat from radical Muslim groups. I correspond regularly by fax with Ms. Nasrin.

It is almost a year since the government of Bangladesh seized Ms. Nasrin's passport. Recently, 5,000 supporters of the Council of Soldiers of Islam marched through the nation's capital demanding her arrest and execution, as well as the banning of all her books, yet she cannot leave the country.

As The Post's article pointed out, Ms. Nasrin exposed ill treatment of Hindus in her banned novel "Laija" ("Shame") and called in her newspaper columns for prosecution of the Muslim clerics whose illegal religious courts have condemned poor women to death by stoning or burning.

Government leaders deny that there is any threat to Ms. Nasrin's life. Clearly, they fear that knowledge of her plight may affect the world's opinion of democracy in Bangladesh and have an impact on foreign aid.

For months, International PEN and Amnesty International have been trying to persuade the government of Bangladesh to restore Ms. Nasrin's freedom to travel, prosecute those who threaten her death and stop censoring her work. We have not gotten far. Like most censorship, this has backfired and created more demand for Ms. Nasrin's work. To satisfy this demand and help us better understand women's lives and literature in South Asia, my committee has invited Ms. Nasrin to speak in the United States this spring. But we cannot even get an answer from her government to the question of when her passport will be restored.

John Shattuck, assistant secretary of State for human rights, said in testimony before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee Sept. 29: "The elimination of abuses and discrimination against women will be an important factor in our overall consideration of the human rights records of countries interested in receiving U.S. aid and trade benefits."

No one wants to penalize the poor of Bangladesh for their government's failure to protect women's human rights. But if the Bangladeshi government will not restore Ms. Nasrin's passport, human rights activists in the United States are bound to remind Mr. Shattuck of these words.

MEREDITH TAX Chair International PEN Women Writers' Committee New York