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The head of the PEN American Center — the group that gave the Charlie Hebdo staff a Freedom of Expression Courage Award earlier this year despite pushback from many members — along with several other groups are now asking Secretary of State John Kerry to “provide humanitarian parole for a limited number of high-profile Bangladeshi secularists at imminent risk of attack.” Humanitarian parole is basically a way to circumvent normal regulations and get someone into the United States due to a “compelling emergency.”

It’s a tremendous showing of support for critics of religion in Bangladesh, many of whom remain on a hit list following the brutal deaths of five writers and publishers over the course of the year.

These writers are unable to seek protection from their own government and are under threat of deadly attack from identifiable non-state groups who have acted on their threats and rhetoric repeatedly in the past. Humanitarian parole is these writers’ only option, as they are otherwise unable to leave the country. As they are still in their own country, they do not qualify for assistance from UNHCR and are not displaced. These visas would provide the only form of relief in this situation. If the United States is unable to grant humanitarian parole to all writers facing these circumstances, we would urge you to mobilize likeminded governments so that other international placements can be secured, including in countries that can offer expedited refugee determinations.

These extremist groups pose a threat not only to writers in Bangladesh, but have proven that they are willing to attack and kill American citizens, and to threaten writers outside of Bangladesh’s own borders. Providing this tangible and essential support for the right to free expression worldwide strengthens our own democracy and upholds our commitment to prevent human rights abuses. We respectfully urge you to provide humanitarian parole for these writers as soon as possible so they may live and work free of intimidation and fear of death.

So far, other attempts at getting the U.S. government to intervene in this matter haven’t gone anywhere. That’s why we need more people in positions of power to speak up. The PEN American Center deserves a lot of credit for standing up for freedom of speech, even when some of the group’s own members have appallingly stood against it.

(Image via Drop of Light /

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Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.