Murder of Bangladesh-American Blogger Avijit Roy Remains Unsolved

By BenarNews Staff
BD-roy-protest-620-March2015 Activists take part in a protest against the killing of secular blogger Avijit Roy in Dhaka, Feb. 27, 2015.

Nearly two weeks after Avijit Roy, a blogger and writer, was slain on the Dhaka University campus, police and investigating agencies are still at a loss as to who actually did it.

While two arrests have been made so far, police officials acknowledged Sunday that they were unable to extract any credible information from the arrestees and they would now widen their search from a list of 10 more suspects who had reportedly threatened Roy.

“We don’t have any clear lead yet. The principal suspect who was taken into custody has denied his involvement in Avijit’s murder,” Monirul Islam, joint commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (Detective Branch), told reporters, referring to Shafiur Rahman Farabi, who was detained a week ago.

Farabi reportedly threatened Roy on Facebook for his posts about Islam on ‘Mukto-Mona’ (Free Mind), the blog he founded nearly 10 years ago.

The second suspect, whose name was not released, was set free only hours after his arrest over the weekend. Interrogators concluded that he had no connection with the grisly incident.

Further deepening frustration of Roy’s family and friends is the seeming inability of the FBI team from the United States to come up with any concrete evidence during their four-day investigation.

The FBI agents came to Dhaka to help with the investigation because Roy, 42, was an American citizen, and lived in Atlanta with wife, fellow blogger Rafida Ahmed Banna. She was seriously injured and lost a finger in the Feb. 26 attack. She has since returned to the United States.

“They have assured us of their full support in providing technical assistance to unearth the murder mystery,” Islam said of the FBI team’s progress so far.

Relegated to margins?

There is widespread belief here that the Avijit Roy story, which made international headlines, could soon get crowded out of the front pages and air waves by the more pressing news events, and may meet the same fate as some previous high-profile murders.

Independent observers, for instance, point to a similar attack in 2004 by suspected militants on Humayun Azad, a Bengali professor at Dhaka University, whose writings against Islamists apparently made him a target of religious fanatics.

Azad died of his wounds in Germany three months later. His killers remain at large and police have yet to charge anybody with his murder.

In 2013, another atheist blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, was killed by self-proclaimed defenders of Islam. Although police claimed they confessed to their involvement in the murder and are now in custody, none of the suspects has been convicted yet, largely because of the tardy and complicated legal process.

Skepticism about probe

Analysts cite a number of reasons for the lack of progress in finding the suspected Islamist attackers. They say lack of commitment to the task on the part of the authorities, poor training and inadequate funding of law enforcement personnel are responsible.

“Given past instances, I don’t have much hope about finding and punishing Avijit’s killers,” said Mohiuddin Ahmed, a former diplomat and commentator, who frequently writes about the danger of religious extremism.

“It’s hard to imagine why such high-profile murders remain unsolved and the attackers go unpunished repeatedly. It’s simply emboldening the religious fundamentalists,” he added.

Sarah Hossain, a lawyer and rights advocate, echoed Ahmed’s sentiment.

"Failure to punish the killers is definitely against the rule of law. Unless the attackers are punished, such type of incidents would happen again," she said.

A former government employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said he was doubtful about the commitment of the authorities in capturing and punishing the culprits.

“How do you expect the law enforcement personnel and the investigating agencies to do a proper job without modern training and adequate funding?” he asked.

“They’re more interested in buying submarines and sophisticated military hardware, although there’s no visible external threat against our national security. They’re simply doing it to keep the army happy in the hope that the largesse would prevent any future military takeover and ensure their continuing hold on power,” he added.

Bangladesh has a history of military intervention and at least on three occasions elected governments were overthrown since the country was born in 1971.

“It’s now clear that the [Sheikh] Hasina government cannot fight the BNP [Bangladesh Nationalist Party] and its chief, Khaleda Zia, politically, and hence they’re relying more on the law enforcement agencies to crush its opponents, diverting them from their real work.”

Indeed, the BNP and its allies are no longer allowed to hold any peaceful gathering or protest march; mass arrests of the party leaders and its supporters have apparently forced them to go underground and call hartals and blockades for the past two month, which are being enforced by cocktail and petrol bombs across Bangladesh.

More than a hundred people, some of them women and children, have died in the violence so far and the hardening of positions on both sides offers no hope of resolving the crisis through peaceful means anytime soon.

There’s growing fear that Bangladesh, which separated from Pakistan 44 years ago to become a secular and democratic country, could become fertile ground for religious extremism in the near future despite the oft-repeated ‘zero tolerance’ policy of the government.

"The coddling of religious parties by successive governments for partisan gains is responsible for the rise of extremism in Bangladesh and this why there's growing concern whether the country could retain its secular character in the long run," said Nizamuddin Ahmed, a professor of political science at Chittagong University.


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