Bloggers forced to flee or lie low in Bangladesh
Police and other law enforcing agencies in Bangladesh are yet to make any progress in solving the murder cases of bloggers Ananta Bijoy Das, Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy, all three of whom were killed between February and May this year.
Although a number of suspects have been arrested, the masterminds behind the killings are yet to be found. An online video in April by Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) claimed responsibility for the murders of the bloggers and similar free-thinkers in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
As justice is yet to be meted out, bloggers in Bangladesh are wary of their own fates amid threats they receive online and over phone.
The latest murder occurred on May 12 in Sylhet as award-winning blogger Ananta Bijoy Das was hacked to death by four masked criminals. Das succumbed to his wounds in a hospital.
He was an activist of the Ganajagaran Mancha, the forum demanding a ban on Islamist parties and maximum penalty for convicted war criminals of Bangladesh’s liberation war in 1971.
Although a case was immediately filed, no arrests were made till June 8, when Sylhet police arrested a photojournalist named Idris Ali for his suspected involvement in Das’s murder. Ali, who works for the daily Sobuj Sylhet, was placed on a week’s remand.
When asked about the progress made in solving the murder case, Kamrul Hasan, commissioner of Sylhet police, could not provide any clear answer to Asia Times. “The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) is looking into the case,” he said.
CID sources along with police have told the media that a militant outfit named Ansarullah Bangla (AB) is most likely behind the murder of Das.
Immediately after Das’s murder on May 12, a twitter account believed to be of AB’s tweeted that AQIS has claimed responsibility for the killing. More than a week before Das’s murder, a video clip was uploaded to jihadi websites on May 2, according to SITE, a website that monitors extremist groups.
In the video titled ‘From France to Bangladesh: The Dust Will Never Settle Down,’ AQIS leader Maulana Asim Umar said his group killed Roy and others because they insulted Islam.
Umar claimed that his group murdered “several blasphemers of the prophet and insulters of the Shariah. Among them were Mohammad Shakil Auj, an Islamic scholar shot dead in Karachi of Pakistan last year, blogger Aneeqa Naz, who was reportedly killed in a road ‘accident’ in Pakistan in 2012, and blogger Rajib Haider, who was killed in a machete attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in February 2013.
Although blogger and online activist Washiqur Rahman Babu’s name was not mentioned by Umar in the video, his photo was present in the video beside Roy’s.
Rahman was killed near his house in Tejgaon area of Dhaka while on his way to work on March 30. Witnesses said three men attacked the 27-year-old, who worked with a travel agency, and hacked him with meat cleavers.
While the assailants were fleeing the crime scene, locals managed to nab two, ‘Zikrullah’ and ‘Ariful’, and handed them over to the police. Later, police arrested Abu Taher for the murder. They are still looking for the mastermind ‘Masum’.
Imran H. Sarker, the head of a Bangladeshi bloggers’ association, told Asia Times: “We can see no achievement by the law enforcing agencies in solving the blogger murders. The two murderers of Rahman were caught by locals and not by the police.”
He pointed out that the inability to investigate and find the killers of the bloggers shows the Bangladesh “government’s indifference to solve these crimes.”
Rahman used to write against religious fundamentalism on Facebook and was vocal on the social media protesting Roy’s murder. Immediately after the murder on March 30, police had said that they were almost certain that AB was behind his murder.
AB is also suspected to be behind the murders of blogger Roy who was hacked to death in a similar manner near the Dhaka University premises on February 26. Roy, a dual US-Bangladeshi citizen, was an atheist blogger who had written a book titled The Virus of Faith, which likened religious extremism to an infectious disease.
Except for Farabi Shafiur Rahman, an extremist blogger who often threatened Roy for his anti-islamic posts online, nobody was arrested in Roy’s murder till date.
AB came to limelight as attacks on bloggers increased over the last few years in Bangladesh. Its chief Mufti Jashim Uddin Rahmani has been charged with the killing of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider on February 15, 2013 in Dhaka.
Prior to Rahmani’s arrest, five arrested suspects confessed that he was attacked because of his online posts about Islam.
With four murder cases remaining unresolved, bloggers in Bangladesh are feeling insecure.
Of the four bloggers murdered, Das, Roy and Haider were mentioned in a list of 84 secularist and atheist bloggers submitted to the home ministry of Bangladesh by hardliners in 2013 .
The fundamentalists called for the bloggers to be sued if they did not repent. Cases filed against them led to the arrests in 2013 of four of them, including blogger Asif Mohiuddin, for allegedly “defaming” religion.
A few months before his arrest, Mohiuddin was stabbed by a group of assailants outside his office in Dhaka in January 2013. His blog was critical of Islam and other religions, and featured a tagline that described God as “almighty only in name, but impotent in reality.”
Mohiuddin is currently living in Europe.
Many of the other bloggers who were on the list have fled the country. Those who have remained are keeping a low profile to ensure their safety and that of their relatives.
Writer Ananya Azad, also mentioned in the list and son of renowned author Humayun Azad, receives death threats almost regularly.
Last month, unidentified suspects in a Facebook message threatened to kill him and dump his body at a national monument.
Azad’s father had been attacked by members of the banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen organisation in 2004 and the Facebook message said he would be killed in a “similar manner.”
Also mentioned in the list is blogger Sannyasi who had to soften his writing after the murder of Roy. “I feel extremely insecure. I have stopped going anywhere except to my office where I go when accompanied by others and return with them,” he said to Asia Times.
Imran H. Sarker says that if the culture of impunity and the indifference of the state to address these issues continue, it will indirectly encourage fundamentalism and militancy in the country.
Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is a Dhaka, Bangladesh based freelance journalist and the editor of Xtra, the weekend magazine of New Age, a leading English daily in Bangladesh.
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