Bangladesh activists protest against US blogger's murder

28 Feb 2015 / 12:37 H.

    DHAKA: Hundreds of protesters rallied in Dhaka on Friday to denounce the murder of a prominent American blogger of Bangladeshi origin hacked to death with machetes after he allegedly received threats from Islamists.
    Demonstrators -- including teachers, publishers and fellow writers -- met near the spot where Avijit Roy, founder of Mukto-Mona (Free-mind) blog, was attacked by unknown assailants as he returned home from a book fair with his wife on Thursday evening.
    As they chanted slogans including "we want justice" and "raise your voice against militants", the head of the Bangladesh bloggers' association said the protests would continue until those responsible were caught.
    "Avijit's killing once again proved that there is a culture of impunity in the country," Imran Sarker told AFP at the rally.
    "The government must arrest the killers in 24 hours or face non-stop protests."
    No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which also seriously wounded the 44-year-old's wife and has shocked many in a country already reeling from weeks of violent political protest.
    Roy, a US citizen, is the second Bangladeshi atheist blogger to have been murdered in two years and the fourth writer to have been attacked since 2004.
    Washington on Friday condemned the killing as a "shocking act of violence" and an assault on the country's "proud tradition" of free speech.
    "This was not just an attack against a person, but a cowardly assault on the universal principles enshrined in Bangladesh's constitution," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
    Roy's father, Ajay, said he had warned his son he could face problems in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, where secular activists have expressed concern about the rise of Islamism.
    "I told Avijit that the Bangladeshi situation would not be comfortable for him. But he came to Bangladesh to see his mother and because two of his books were published at the bookfair," he said.
    Ajay Roy said his son had received numerous threats from Islamists before he arrived in Bangladesh on Feb 16.
    Hardline Islamist groups have long demanded the public execution of atheist bloggers and sought new laws to combat writing critical on Islam.
    Police have launched an investigation and recovered the machetes used in the attack, which they compared to a fatal assault on atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider in 2013.
    Haider was hacked to death by members of a little-known Islamist militant group, triggering nationwide protests by tens of thousands of secular activists.
    "The pattern of the killing appeared to be the same as that of previous attack on a celebrated writer," assistant commissioner of Dhaka police Shiblee Noman told AFP.
    "It seems it was carried out by a reactionary fundamentalist group."
    Atheists the "easiest target"
    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 secular government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reacted by arresting some atheist bloggers.
    The government also blocked about a dozen websites and blogs to stem the furore over blasphemy, as well as stepping up security for the bloggers.
    "Communal and militant groups have threatened the very spirit of our nation. Yet instead of crushing them, the government was keen on appeasing them by arresting secular bloggers," Sarker said on Friday.
    Noman said police were investigating a tweet by the pro-Islamist group Ansar Bangla Seven that appeared to celebrate Roy's murder.
    "Target Down here in #Bangladesh," the group tweeted from the @AnsarBn7 handle.
    Roy's wife, who is also a blogger, was moved to a clinic for further treatment on Friday.
    Roy had written about 10 books, including the best-selling "Biswasher Virus" (Virus of Faith), as well as his blog, which championed liberal secular writing in the Muslim-majority nation.
    Pinaki Bhattacharya, a fellow blogger and friend of Roy, said one of the country's largest online book retailers was being openly threatened for selling Roy's books.
    "In Bangladesh the easiest target is an atheist. An atheist can be attacked and murdered," he wrote on Facebook.
    Muslims make up some 90% of Bangladesh's 160 million people.
    A tribunal has recently handed down a series of verdicts against leading Islamists and others for crimes committed during the war of independence from Pakistan in 1971. – AFP

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