The United Nations and other international actors Thursday joined outraged local students in condemning the hacking to death of a law student in Bangladesh who had criticized religious extremism and identified himself as an atheist in online writings.
Nazimuddin Samad is the sixth secular intellectual killed in a similar manner since February 2015.
A postgraduate student at Dhaka’s Jagannath University (JnU), Samad was intercepted and cut down with machetes by five to six attackers as he walked in a street of the city’s Sutrapur area at around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, an eyewitness told BenarNews.
“Suddenly they started hacking him mercilessly and left the scene. They left the scene before people could understand what was actually happening,” said Matin, a local businessman.
Friends of Samad later posted messages on his Facebook page saying his killers had shouted “Allahu Akbar (God is Great)” before fleeing the scene.
Several messages that glorified his murder were also posted on his Facebook page.
“This is the atheist Nazimuddin Samad! Alhamdulillah [Praise be to God] for his murder!!” one message read, adding “It is the pleasure of all religions when atheists are finished.”
Students at JnU took to the streets Thursday to vent their anger for what they called the “police’s failure” to protect Samad. For hours, they burned tires and blocked roads in front of the university.
“The religious extremists killed him. This is not possible for ordinary criminals to kill in such a manner. He had been under the constant watch of the militants. We want justice,” Shahriar Ahmed, one of the protesters, told BenarNews.
Robert Watkins, the U.N.’s resident coordinator in the country, called on the authorities to investigate the murders of bloggers and intellectuals thoroughly and bring the perpetrators to justice.
“This attack demonstrates that this new killing is clearly part of a growing trend which undermines the freedom of expression and opinion in Bangladesh,” Watkins said in a statement.
‘Terrible pattern of murders’
Police officials said the nature of Wednesday’s killing was similar to other murders of secular writers and publishers – which Bangladeshi authorities have pinned on a banned militant group, Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT).
“He may have been killed for personal enmity. Also, his Facebook posts and comments give us the sense that some groups angered by the comments could have killed him. We are investigating the murder from all angles,” Syed Nurul Islam, deputy commissioner of police for the Wari zone in Dhaka, told reporters Thursday.
As of late Thursday, no arrests were reported in connection with Samad’s murder.
Among those condemning the murder was Pierre Mayaudon, the European Union’s ambassador to Bangladesh.
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and [the E.U.] emphasizes the need for tolerance and respect for differing views,” Mayaudon said Thursday in a statement.
He called for “all efforts to ensure that citizens of Bangladesh may express their views freely and without fear.”
The PEN American Center, a New York-based NGO that champions the freedom of writers worldwide, joined the condemnation.
“For more than a year, Bangladesh has been ravaged by a spate of bloody attacks on bloggers and other writers who espouse secular viewpoints,” Karin Deutsch Karlekar, its director of Free Expression Programs, said in a statement, calling on the Bangladeshi authorities to “halt this terrible pattern of murders.”
She was referring to the murders last year of five secular intellectuals, including Avijit Roy, a U.S.-Bangladeshi blogger. A seventh secular intellectual, Ahmed Rajib Haider, was hacked to death by suspected Islamic militants in February 2013.
In December, a court sentenced two Islamic radicals to death and six other defendants to prison terms for Haider’s murder. To date, no one has been tried or convicted in the other murders.
“We also reiterate our demand for the United States and other countries that are able to provide refuge to shelter those writers who are still at grave risk before more lives are lost. This killing is a cruel illustration of the costs of inaction,” Karlekar said.