Avijit was hacked to death while returning from Amar Ekushey Book Fair on February 26, 2015
In one of the most crucial judicial verdicts in the country, five extremists of Ansar al-Islam have been sentenced to death while another to lifetime imprisonment over the brutal murder of writer-blogger Avijit Roy six years ago.
Judge Md Majibur Rahman of the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal in Dhaka handed down the judgment in the presence of four of the six convicts in a jampacked courtroom amid tight security.
The judge also fined each of the convicts Tk50,000.
The court noted that science writer-blogger Avijit Roy fell victim to a murderous attack on his way back from a gathering of science writers at the Amar Ekushey Book Fair. Members of Ansar al-Islam committed the heinous crime as an organization, branding the victim “a secular writer.”
US-based Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy lost his life because he wanted to write and express himself, observed the court.
The judge added that other Ansar al-Islam members would be motivated to commit such crimes if the accused in this case were spared. Since the accused were involved in the murder in an organized manner as members of the militant group, they could not be granted mercy.
The six convicts are sacked Bangladesh Army major Syed Ziaul Haque alias Major Zia; Abu Siddique Sohel; Mozammel Hossain; Arafat Rahman, Shafiur Rahman Farabi and Akram Hossain.
Only Farabi was sentenced to life in jail. Two more years will be added to his jail term if he fails to pay the fine.
Of those found guilty, Major Zia and Akram are still on the run, while the rest are behind bars. “The punishment of the fugitives will be effective from the day of their arrest or surrender,” said the judge.
The court in its 50-page judgment said that the prosecution was able to prove the charges against all the accused and they were given capital punishment for their involvement in committing the heinous offence.
Quoting the observation held by the court, Special Public Prosecutor Md Golam Sharuar Khan Zakir said: “The aim of the accused was to kill bloggers, writers and publishers to stop freedom of speech of people and disrupt public safety by creating panic among the people.”
“The purpose of all this is to stop freedom of expression and destroy the democratic and non-communal character of the state,” he added.
Defence lawyers, including MABM Khairul Islam Liton, said their clients had failed to get justice and they would challenge the verdict in the High Court.
Trial proceedings were concluded in 32 working days since they were initiated against the accused on August 1, 2019.
Last week four of them – sacked maj Syed Ziaul Haque alias Major Zia, Akram Hossain, Abu Siddique Sohel, Mozammel Hossain alias Saimon were awarded capital punishment for their involvement in the October 2015 murder of publisher Foisal Arefin Dipon, who published Avijit’s book.
Sohel, Mozammel, Arafat and Farabi were brought to the court around 9am from Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj. All of them were wearing bulletproof jackets and helmets. They were taken to the courtroom before the judge delivered the verdict.
Additionally, law enforcement agencies had beefed up security in and around the court since the morning.
It was the second verdict by this court against militants this month. On February 10, over five years after Dipon’s murder, eight leaders and members of Ansar al-Islam – formerly known as Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) – were sentenced to death.
Avijit’s assassination on February 26, 2015, was subsequently followed by the murders of several other bloggers, publishers and freethinkers, including Dipon.
Avijit, who was a bio-engineer, online activist and a naturalized US citizen, was hacked with machetes by several militants near the main entrance of Suhrawardy Udyan, adjacent to the TSC intersection at Dhaka University, around 8:30pm on February 26, 2015.
He died at Dhaka Medical College Hospital around 10:30pm.
Avijit’s wife Rafida Ahmed Bonya was also severely wounded in the attack but survived. The couple were leaving the Amar Ekushey Book Fair when they came under attack.
The following day, Avijit’s father and prominent educationist Prof Ajay Roy filed the murder case at Shahbagh police station.
Four years later, police filed a charge-sheet against the six in March 2019. The tribunal accepted it the next month. The trial started in August that year following the indictment of the accused.
During the trial, the court heard 28 prosecution witnesses out of 34, including Prof Ajay Roy, who passed away on December 9, 2019.
According to court documents and confessional statements of the defendants, militants Mozammel, Akram and one Hasan were living at Elephant Road in Dhaka in 2015.
After the plan to kill Avijit in February that year was finalised, Akram and several others had located the blogger’s Dhaka home and followed his movements around the city for several days before they met with Zia.
Zia then changed the plan and ordered them to kill Avijit at the book fair.
On February 26, 2015, Sohel, Akram, Mozammel and Hasan went to the book fair, followed Avijit, and then took position outside TSC, as per Zia’s instructions. Mozammel then informed Mukul Rana, who was the then leader of Ansar al-Islam’s operational branch.
Around 8:30pm, Avijit and his wife were on their way to the TSC from the fair when four members of another team of the militant outfit, who were led by Rana and tasked to kill him, attacked them with machetes.
Zia was reportedly also present at the scene with others and helped the killers flee the scene.
Shafiur Rahman Farabi, a fundamentalist blogger, was arrested on March 2, 2015, two months after the murder, and charged with inciting Avijit’s murder.
Although Farabi was not directly involved in the attack, he has been charged with incitement as his writing provoked the attack. He wrote six status updates in his Facebook profile urging the militants to kill Avijit.
The court in his judgment said that Farabi was one of the instigators who encouraged the murder. In one of his statuses he said that Avijit would be killed once he came back to Bangladesh from the US.
Avijit’s murder left the nation reeling, leading to widespread protests around the country and drawing condemnation from abroad and international organizations.
Several months later, publisher Dipon, who owned Jagriti Prokashony, was similarly hacked to death in his Aziz Super Market office in October 2015.
Between and after the two murders, a series of attacks on writers, bloggers, publishers and online activists in Bangladesh also took place. Such brutal attacks on secular voices left the nation shocked and in a state of panic.