A court in Bangladesh on Thursday sentenced two suspected Islamists to death for the murder of secular blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider nearly three years ago, and handed prison sentences to six other defendants.
The Speedy Trial Court delivered guilty verdicts for all eight defendants on the last day of a calendar year that saw four more secular bloggers and a publisher slain in separate machete attacks. Thursday’s convictions were only the first among the six murder cases dating to Feb. 15, 2013, when Haider was hacked to death on a Dhaka street.
“We are not happy about the judgment; the killers should have been given maximum punishment. They should have [all] got the death sentence,” Imran H. Sarker, spokesman for Gonojagoron Moncho (the Mass Awakening Platform), an activist group that had long called for the killers of Haider and the others to be tried and convicted, told reporters later.
Haider’s father, Nazim Uddin, said he had wanted all eight defendants to receive capital punishment.
“I will appeal the verdict,” he told reporters.
Defendants Faisal bin Nayeem and Rezwanul Azad Rana received capital sentences for killing Haider, who had written articles that were critical of Islam, alleged criminals from Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971, and religion-based politics. Rana, a fugitive, was tried and convicted in absentia.
Bangladesh police have blamed the radical group Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) for Haider’s murder and the five similar attacks in 2015.
Apart from the two death sentences, six men were sentenced to varying terms in prison for their roles in his killing.
Judge Syed Ahmed handed a life sentence to Maksudul Hasan, who had supplied the machete used to kill Haider.
ABT cleric Jashim Uddin Rahmani was sentenced to five years, because his sermons branding bloggers as atheists and enemies of Islam had inspired those who plotted and carried out the killing, the court found.
Md. Ehsan Reza Rumman, Nasir Imtiaz and Md. Nayeem Shikder were sentenced to 10 years. Sadman Yeasir Mahmud was sentenced to three years.
The court determined that Nayeem’s attack killed Haider and that Rana masterminded the plot.
Hasan was present at the crime scene – in front of Rajib Haider’s residence in Dhaka’s Mirpur area. The four others who were convicted had tracked the blogger’s movements.
Seven of the eight defendants were engineering students at North South University in Dhaka.
The seven men in custody were arrested in January 2014. All eight defendants were charged then but their trial only began on March 18, 2015.
Announcing his verdict, Judge Ahmed noted that the investigating police officer did not collect a statement from Rajib Haider’s girlfriend, who had been with the blogger before he was killed.
“There were some flaws in the investigation,” he conceded.
Seven of the defendants were followers of Rahmani, whose direct link in the murder was not proven. Six confessed that they went to a mosque in Dhaka’s Mohammadpur area and listened to Rahmani’s sermons.
The judge said that Rahmani admitted that he had called the blogger an atheist and enemy of Islam.
Haider, the blogger in question, was known as Thaba Baba (Pouncing Father) among Bangladesh’s blogging community and was a pioneer of Gonojagoron Moncho.
Launched in early 2013 through massive demonstrations, the grassroots movement has called for war criminals from ‘71 to be executed and for faith-based parties to be banned.
Haider, 26, was killed 10 days after the movement’s launch in Dhaka’s Shahbag Square.
A deadly year for bloggers
Following his murder, more than two years would pass before the next blogger was killed.
Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy, 42, was hacked to death on Feb. 26, 2015, on the campus of Dhaka University, a bastion of secular thought in the capital.
Another blogger, Washiqur Rahman, 27, was hacked to death on March 30 in Dhaka’s Tejgaon area. Three madrassa students were captured while fleeing the scene.
On May 12, blogger Ananta Bijoy Das, 30, was killed by masked men in the northeastern city of Sylhet.
On Aug. 7, 40-year-old blogger Niladri Chottopaddhya was killed by machete-wielding men who had entered his apartment home near Dhaka.
And on Oct. 31, a pair of coordinated attacks on two publishing houses in Dhaka left two bloggers and a publisher wounded, but claimed the life of Faisal Arefin Dipan, a publisher who had printed the secular writings of Avijit Roy.