Third atheist blogger killed in Bangladesh knife attack
Police say Ananta Bijoy Das was attacked in Sylhet city, months after fellow bloggers Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman were murdered.
By Saad Hammadi
A secular blogger has been hacked to death in north-east Bangladesh, the third such deadly attack this year.
Police said Ananta Bijoy Das was murdered as he headed to work at a bank in the city of Sylhet, an attack that fellow writers said highlighted a culture of impunity.
Kamrul Hasan, commissioner of Sylhet police, said a group of about four masked attackers pounced on Das with machetes at about 8.30am on Tuesday on a busy street in Bangladesh’s fifth-largest city.
“They chased him down the street and first attacked his head with their machetes and then attacked him all over his body,” Hasan told Agence France-Presse. The attackers fled into the crowds and Das was taken to hospital but declared dead on arrival, police and medics said.
Hasan would not be drawn on the motive for the attack but fellow writers said Das had been on a hitlist drawn up by militants who were behind the recent killing of a blogger who was a US citizen.
Imran Sarker, head of a Bangladeshi bloggers’ association, said Das was an atheist who wrote blogs for Mukto-Mona, a website formerly moderated by Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-born US citizen who was stabbed to death in the capital, Dhaka, in February.
Sarker told the Guardian: “They [the government] should not stay in power, if they are not able to bring the perpetrators to justice. One after another incident is happening and they are not able to do anything.”
Debasish Debu, a friend of Das, said the 33-year-old banker was also an editor of a quarterly magazine called Jukti (Logic) and headed the Sylhet-based science and rationalist council.
Debu said Das had been receiving threats for his writing and that their frequency increased after the killing of Roy. “He had written about superstitions, but he wasn’t among the writers that would hurt the sentiments of religion,” Debu said.
According to the Mukto-Mona site, Das won the publication’s annual rationalist award in 2006 for his “deep and courageous interest in spreading secular and humanist ideals and messages”.
While most of Das’s output for Mukto-Mona focused on science and evolution, he wrote a number of blogs that criticised some aspects of Islam and also of Hinduism. He also wrote a poem eulogising the famed Bangladeshi secular writer Taslima Nasreen, who fled to Europe in 1994 after protests by Islamists.
In comments on Facebook posted early on Tuesday, Das criticised the local member of parliament from the ruling Awami League party for criticising one of the country’s top secular and science fiction writers.
His murder comes a week after al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent claimed responsibility for Roy’s killing on 26 February in which his wife was badly injured. An Islamist has been arrested over his murder. Another atheist blogger, Washiqur Rahman, was hacked to death in Dhaka in March. Two madrassa students have been arrested over that attack.
Bangladesh is an officially secular country but more than 90% of its 160 million population are Muslims. There has been an increase in attacks by religious extremists in recent years. Supporters of Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party, which is banned from standing in elections, have been accused of being behind a spate of firebombings this year aimed at toppling the government.
Since 2013, at least five bloggers have been attacked by Islamists after another hardline group, Hefazat-e-Islam, publicly sought the execution of atheists who organised mass protests against the rise of political Islam.
Hefazat, led by Islamic seminary teachers, also staged a massive counter-protest against the bloggers in May 2013 that unleashed violence and left nearly 50 people dead.