27 Feb 2015

Bangladesh: dangerous place for a secular blogger?

Bangladesh’s capital reels after a prominent blogger was hacked to death, the latest of a series of attacks on writers who support free-thinking values in the Muslim-majority nation.

The attack comes amid a crackdown on hardline Islamist groups, which have increased activities in recent years in the South Asian nation.

Avijit Roy, a US citizen of Bangladeshi origin, and his wife and fellow blogger, Rafida Ahmed Bonna, were attacked on Thursday while returning from a book fair. Ahmed was seriously injured.

Police retrieved two machetes from the site, but have not yet identified any suspects.

They said they were investigating the involvement of Ansarullah Bangla Team, an Islamist extremist group based in Bangladesh that claimed responsibility on Friday for the murder.

Roy’s family said Islamist radicals had been threatening him in recent weeks because he maintained a blog, “Mukto-mona”, or “Freemind”, that highlighted humanist, atheistic and rationalist ideas, as well as condemning religious extremism.

“Islamist radicals are behind my son’s murder,” Ajoy Roy told reporters on Friday after filing a murder case with police. “We mourn but we are unbeaten,” read a black banner on the site.

A banner reading “We mourn, but we are unbeaten,” (in Bengali) was put on the site.

Fellow blogger and friend of Roy, Sukhamaya Bain said hearing about his death was a “nightmare”. In a Facebook statement, Dr Bain said: “His death is like knocking down a shining star from the sky – it is a huge loss for humanity.

He has been in the hit list of the Islamic fanatics of Bangladesh for quite some time. Sukhamaya Bain

“He has been in the hit list of the Islamic fanatics of Bangladesh for quite some time. Last time when I communicated with Avijit, I requested him not to go to Bangladesh. My fear just came true a few hours back.”

‘Free expression’

The Center for Inquiry, a US-based nonprofit group Roy wrote for, said it was “shocked and heartbroken” by the murder.

“Dr. Roy was a true ally, a courageous and eloquent defender of reason, science, and free expression, in a country where those values have been under heavy attack,” it said in a statement.

“While it is not known for certain what motivated this attack, surely this tragedy must spur a serious discussion among officials in Bangladesh about free expression, and the roots of the kind of violent extremism that would so brutally take away such a valued member of its society.” CFI’s chief UN representative, Michael De Dora, said:

According to local news bdnews24.com, Dhaka Medical College Forensic Department’s Assistant Professor, Sohel Mahmud, said the killers were “professional”, while a Twitter account had described the murder as a punishment for Roy’s “crimes against Islam”.

Media group Reporters Without Borders rated Bangladesh 146th among 180 countries in a ranking of press freedom last year.

In 2013, religious extremists targeted several secular bloggers who had demanded capital punishment for Islamist leaders convicted of war crimes during Bangladesh’s war for independence.

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Blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was killed that year in a similar attack near his home in Dhaka after he led one such protest demanding capital punishment.

In 2004, Humayun Azad, a secular writer and professor at Dhaka University, was also attacked by militants while returning home from a Dhaka book fair. He later died in Germany while undergoing treatment.