In 2006, one of the leaders of the fundamentalist organization Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) admitted to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) that they carried out the attack on Azad
Even though attacks on bloggers and freethinkers by Islamic fundamentalists have decreased significantly following nationwide anti-militant crackdowns, online activists say their freedom of expression has been stifled.
Their fear is exacerbated by the slow moving trial proceedings of many of the cases filed for the murder of bloggers.
It will be five years Wednesday since Avijit Roy, founder of the influential Bangladeshi blog Mukto-Mona (Freethinkers), and his wife Bonya Ahmed were attacked at the Ekuskey Book Fair by machete wielding assailants.
According to witnesses, two assailants stopped and dragged them from the rickshaw to the pavement before striking them with machetes. Avijit was struck and stabbed in the head with sharp weapons. His wife was slashed on her shoulders and the fingers of her left hand severed when she attempted to go to her husband's aid. Avijit died at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
The trial of the case filed over his murder started in August last year.
The court has heard 10 out of 30 witnesses and set the next hearing for March 2.
Dhaka Anti-terrorism Special Tribunal’s Public Prosecutor Golam Sarwar Khan Zakir hoped that the trial will end soon.
Lucky Akhter, a Ganajagaran Mancha leader, told Dhaka Tribune: “Every time a blogger or a freethinker was assassinated, the government blamed the victims for their fate,” suggesting that a better understanding of the rule of law would prevent such violence by radical Islamic fundamentalists.
Even the case of writer Humayun Azad is still in court. On February 27, 2004, two assailants hacked Humayun Azad near the University of Dhaka campus during that year’s Ekushey Book Fair. They hacked Azad several times on the jaw, the lower part of the neck, and hands.
He had written a satire called Pak Sar Jamin Sad Bad (Be Blessed the Sacred Land) where he criticized the political ideologies of the Islamic extremists of Bangladesh. After that book was published, he started receiving various threats from Islamist fundamentalists. A week before the attack on him, then member of parliament Sayeedi said in parliament that Azad's political satire must be banned, and wanted to table a blasphemy law in Bangladesh for this kind of book.
In 2006, one of the leaders of the fundamentalist organization Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) admitted to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) that they carried out the attack on Azad.
On 12 August, 2004, Azad was found dead in his apartment in Munich, Germany, where he had arrived a week earlier to conduct research on the nineteenth century German romantic poet Heinrich Heine. Two cases filed for the attack and death of Prof Azad are still being tried due to the non-appearance of witnesses, and the alleged negligence of prosecution lawyers.
On February 15, 2013, Ahmed Rajib Haider, an atheist blogger, was attacked and killed while leaving his house in Palashnagar, a Mirpur neighborhood in Dhaka. He was an organizer of the Shahbag movement.
His case is the only one that’s been fully tried. On December 30, 2015, after almost three years, two members of the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), Md Faisal Bin Nayem and Redwanul Azad Rana, were found guilty of murder and were sentenced to death.
Three years before the Holey Artisan attack, the tension between secular voices and Islamic fundamentalists began to boil over. Starting from the Shahbag movement in 2013, an obscure group back then, Hefazat-e-Islam, descended on Dhaka. They demanded among other things the arrest, and enactment of capital punishment for the "atheist bloggers" involved in the Shahbag movement.
Key to the movement that began on February 5, 2013, was the demand for convicted war criminals, namely Jamaat-e-Islami leaders Abdul Quader Molla and Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, to be hanged. That went on for weeks. Soon after, a spate of killing began.
Rights activist Nur Khan Liton said despite repeated attacks on freethinkers, the state could not protect them. “As a result, people have been silenced and the spirit of open-minded thinking is no longer seen these days.”
The effects of the murders have been far reaching. Blogger Arif Jebtik said: “More than 200 bloggers and online activists have left the country in the past few years. The ones that remain hardly write. Many want to, but are unable to do so because of that fear.”
2015 saw a large rise in violence against secular writers and bloggers. On March 30, 2015, another blogger, Washiqur Rahman, was killed in the Tejgaon neighborhood of Dhaka in an attack similar to that perpetrated on Avijit Roy. The police arrested two suspects near the scene and recovered meat cleavers from them. The suspects informed the police that they are also members of the ABT and had trained for fifteen days before killing him. His murder trial is currently underway.
Ananta Bijoy Das, an atheist blogger who was on an extremist hit-list for his writing, was hacked to death by four masked men in Sylhet on 12 May 2015. The investigation of his case is still ongoing.
Niloy Chatterjee, also known as Niloy Neel, was killed on 7 August, 2015. It is reported that a gang of about six men armed with machetes attacked him at his home in the Goran neighborhood of Dhaka and hacked him to death.
Faisal Arefin Dipan, publisher of Jagriti Prakashani, which published Avijit Roy's Biswasher Virus (The Virus of Faith), was hacked to death in Dhaka on October 31, 2015. A Dhaka court on October 13, 2019, indicted eight militants of banned outfit Ansar Al Islam over his murder.
LGBT rights activist Xulhaz Mannan and his friend Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were indiscriminately hacked in a Kalabagan flat on April 25, 2016. The charge sheet was submitted to a Dhaka court on July 28, 2019.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Deputy Commissioner Masudur Rahman said charges in most cases have been pressed, with some of the murder lawsuits already under trail.
“We are also trying to arrest the absconding suspects,” he added.