Unidentified assailants shot dead a Bangladeshi publisher near the capital Dhaka on Monday, police said, in the first deadly attack against secular bloggers, writers and intellectuals in the country since 2016.
Shahzahan Bachchu, 57, a former secretary general of the Munshiganj district unit of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, was at a pharmacy in Kakaldi village in Munshiganj when four suspects on two motorcycles gunned him down, police and witnesses told BenarNews.
The suspects set off Molotov cocktails before shooting Bachchu, said Abul Kalam, officer-in-charge (OIC) of the Sirajdikhan police station.
“Two motorcyclists wearing helmets first exploded two to three crude bombs and then shot him dead,” Kalam said.
The gunmen shot Bachchu after dragging him out of the pharmacy, a witness told BenarNews.
Bachchu was taken to a nearby hospital where doctors declared him dead before arrival.
“He suffered a bullet wound on his chest,” Dulal Ahmed, a doctor at the Sirajdikhan health complex, told BenarNews. “He actually died before he was taken to the hospital.”
Police have not established a motive in Bachchu’s killing. An investigator said that the noted published and writer could have been killed because of his secularist views.
“We are investigating whether militants killed him,” said Kalam, the police OIC.
Suspected militants have targeted secularist bloggers, publishers and writers in recent years, killing at least 10 of them between February 2013 and April 2016 in machete attacks, police said. Dozens of suspects have been arrested and imprisoned in connection with the killings.
Had gone into hiding
Bachchu lived in Japan for five years before returning to Bangladesh in 1993. He founded the publishing house Bishaka, which mainly published poetry books. He was a self-proclaimed atheist and well-known on social media for his secular views.
In an interview with the Daily Observer in August 2015, Bachchu said he had gone underground and frequently had to change his hideouts after receiving numerous telephoned death threats from suspected militants.
“Initially I ignored the threats, thinking that it would be useless to go after unknown scoundrels,” he said then, explaining that he only began taking the threats seriously after the deaths of bloggers. “Basically my family has become afraid.”
Bachchu’s daughter, Durba Jahan, broke the news of his killing on Facebook.
Bachchu’s slaying was the first involving a firearm since Bangladesh witnessed a surge of machete attacks on secular writers, bloggers, publishers, foreigners and minorities since late September 2015.
In April 2017, Bangladesh’s high court upheld death sentences for two suspects in the February 2013 murder of secular blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider, and it upheld life sentences for six other men who were also convicted in the case.
Condemnation from abroad
On Monday, Britain-based international organizations representing writers and free thinkers condemned Bachchu’s killing.
“In what appears to be a case of targeted assassination, Shahzahan Bachchu, a publisher, has been murdered this evening. We do not know all details of the case yet, but it is clear that Bangladesh remains a dangerous place for writers and publishers,” Salil Tripathi, chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, said in a statement.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) also issued a statement.
“We are devastated that the specter of violence has returned to the freethinking community in Bangladesh,” said Andrew Copson, president of IHEU.
“We once again call on the government of Bangladesh to root out the Jihadi networks perpetrating these crimes, and on the international community to bring pressure to bear on Bangladesh to protect and defends its humanists and human rights defenders,” Copson said.