Hundreds of people have taken to the streets of Dhaka
in protest at the murder of a prominent secular American blogger of Bangladeshi
origin who was hacked to death with machetes after he allegedly received
threats from Islamists.
Avijit Roy and his wife, Rafida Ahmed, were attacked
on a crowded pavement as they were returning from a book fair at Dhaka
University. Ahmed, who is also a blogger, lost a finger and remains under
treatment at the Square hospital in Dhaka.
The attack took place at about 8.45pm on Thursday
evening when a group of men ambushed the couple as they walked toward a
roadside tea stall, with at least two of the attackers hitting them with meat
cleavers. The attackers then ran off into the crowds. Two blood-stained
cleavers were found after the attack, said police.
A tweet from Ansar Bangla 7, a previously
unknown fundamentalist group, said: “Anti-Islamic blogger US-Bengali citizen
Avijit Roy is assassinated in capital #Dhaka due to his crime against #Islam.”
Roy, founder of the Mukto-Mona (Free-mind)
blog, which featured articles on scientific reasoning and religion, had been
receiving threats for some time. A Facebook posting this month said that he
would be killed once he arrived in the capital. The couple arrived in Dhaka on
Police said the murder was being given high priority
and had been referred to the detective branch.
“This is being treated as a highly important and
sensitive case, which is why the case has been handed to the detective branch,”
said Shibly Noman, assistant police commissioner of the Dhaka metropolitan
police. Several hundred people – including teachers, publishers and fellow
writers – joined a rally on Friday near the site of the attack carrying banners
saying: “We want justice” and “Down with fundamentalism”.
Imran Sarker, head of the Bangladesh bloggers’
association, said the protests would not let up unless those responsible for
Roy’s killing were caught. “Avijit’s killing once again proved that there is a
culture of impunity in the country,” Sarker told Agence France-Presse. “The
government must arrest the killers in 24 hours or face non-stop protests.”
Roy, who was 42, had been a target of extremist groups
for at least five years because of his writings on secular and lesbian and gay
issues in his columns and blogs, his father said. “There isn’t one specific
writing I can think of which caused this attack on him,” he added.
Roy, a mechanical engineer, was a regular columnist of
the Bangladeshi news agency bdnews24.com. He wrote about 10 books,
including the best-sellingBiswasher Virus (Virus of Faith), as well
as his blog, which championed liberal secular writing in the Muslim-majority
“His murder only highlights the point, being made
consistently by many, that much more needed to be done to protect these people
and the state has been failing to do its job,” said Toufique Imrose Khalidi,
editor of bdnews24.com.
Roy is the second blogger suspected to have been
killed by fundamentalist groups in the past two years. Ahmed Rajib Haider was
killed in February 2013 for posts antagonising extremist groups. After Haider’s
death, Bangladesh’s hardline Islamist groups started to protest against other
campaigning bloggers, accusing them of blasphemy and calling a series of
nationwide strikes to demand their execution.
The government reacted by arresting some atheist
bloggers. It also blocked about a dozen websites and blogs to stem the furore
over blasphemy, as well as stepping up security for the bloggers. In 2004,
Humayun Azad, a prominent writer and teacher at Dhaka University, was seriously
injured in an attack when he was returning from the same book fair.
The attacks starkly underline an increasing gulf
between secular bloggers and conservative Islamic groups, often covertly
connected with Islamist parties. Secularists have urged authorities to ban
religion-based politics, while Islamists have pressed for blasphemy laws to
prevent criticism of their faith.
Islam is Bangladesh’s state religion but the
country is governed by secular laws based on British common law, and Sheikh
Hasina, the prime minister, has repeatedly said she will not give in to
The latest murder comes against a backdrop of
political violence since the beginning of January. More than 100 people have
been killed in molotov cocktail attacks amid a political deadlock. The
opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party is demanding
a fresh election administered by an independent interim government, which the
ruling Awami League flatly rejects.
Robert Gibson, the British high commissioner, expressed his shock at Roy’s murder and
the recent violence in the country. Baki Billah, a friend of Roy and a blogger,
told Independent TV that Roy had been threatened earlier by people upset at his
“He was a free thinker. He was a Hindu but he was not
only a strong voice against Islamic fanatics but also equally against other
religious fanatics,” Billah said.