A court in Dhaka on Wednesday formally charged eight people, including the chief of outlawed militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), in the February 2013 slaying of Ahmed Rajib Haider, a leading atheist blogger in Bangladesh.
Haider, a 34-year-old architect, was hacked to death on a street near his home in the Dhaka suburb of Mirpur, after vociferously criticizing the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) political party and related institutions in his writings.
Fourth Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge Md. Ruhul Amin indicted the eight and set April 21 for the deposition of witnesses, according to bdnews24.
The accused are ABT chief Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani and seven students from North South University (NSU), a private campus in Dhaka: Faisal Bin Nayeem, 22, Maksudul Hassan Anik, 23, Ehsan Reza Rumman, 23, Nayeem Sikder Irad, 19, Nafis Imtiaz, 22, Sadman Yasir Mahmud, 20, and Rezwanul Azad Rana, 30, bdnews24 said.
Rana, the prime suspect and leader of Islami Chhatra Shibir, JeI’s student wing, is on the run.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the seven defendants pleaded not guilty after the charges were read out to them. The court rejected their plea for bail, according to the Prothom Alo.
The action comes less than a month after secular blogger Avijit Roy was killed in the same manner outside a book fair at Dhaka University.
An Islamist group, Ansar Bangla 7, claimed responsibility for Roy’s murder.
Police are holding a suspect in that case, Farabi Shafiur Rahman.
Rahman, who has links to the extremist Islamist group Hizbut Tahrir, has denied killing Roy but said he was glad the blogger was attacked, Reuters reported.
Police believe that Islamic zealots killed Haider, who was known in the blogging community as Thaba Baba.
His murder on Feb. 15, 2013, occurred 10 days into the historic “Ganjagarn Mancha” movement at Dhaka’s Shahbag Square.
There, tens of thousands assembled peacefully and demanded the death penalty for 1971 war criminals, as well as a ban on Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Chhatra Shibir.
Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal has sentenced several Jamaat leaders to death.
One of them, Abdul Kader Molla, the party’s assistant secretary-general, was hanged on Dec. 13, 2013. Others have appealed to the Supreme Court against the ICT judgment and await a final verdict.
Haider, an active member of the Mancha movement, had blogged relentlessly against Jamaat, Shibir and their institutions, including the Islami Bank, the alleged financier of radical Islamists.
A day after his murder, Haider’s father, Nazim Uddin, filed a homicide report with the Pallabi police station. Police arrested five NSU students two weeks later.
The NSU students come from upper-middle class backgrounds. This baffled intelligence and law enforcement personnel, who wondered how students from a private university and with modern schooling could commit such a heinous crime.
Haider’s uncle, Khurram Haider, was one of the first to find the body at the crime scene.
“As I reached there, I saw a body lying on its back. He was hacked numerous times in the head and his face was mutilated beyond recognition,” he told bdnews24 at the time.
“I stopped for a moment before leaving the place. I called Rajib’s number using my cell phone. I heard the phone ringing inside the pant’s pocket.”
“I ran to the body at once. I pulled out the cell phone and found it was my nephew Rajib’s phone.”
By BenarNews staff with details from news reports.