Updated at 5:41 p.m. ET on 2015-08-28
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s condemnation of the slaying of secular blogger Niladri Chottopaddhya has done little to assure Bangladesh’s threatened community of “free thinkers” that they are safe.
Adding to the sense of insecurity were comments over the weekend by the nation’s police chief who warned secular activists they could be arrested for offending people’s religious sentiment.
A day after a gang invaded his suburban Dhaka apartment and hacked Chottopaddhya to death with machetes, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that her government would not tolerate terrorist acts committed in the name of religion.
“Islam is the religion of peace. Those who are besmirching the religion, they cannot be the followers of Islam,” she said Saturday during an event in Dhaka marking her mother’s 85th birthday.
Chottopaddhya, better known by his pen name Niloy Neel, was the fourth secular blogger this year and fifth since February 2013 to be murdered for his views on religion in Bangladesh.
“We’ll not allow any bloodshed in secular Bangladesh in the name of religion,” the prime minister added.
Her words did not pacify the country’s blogging community.
“The prime minister didn’t have the courage to utter even his name in public,” Imran H. Sarker, spokesman for the Gonojagoron Moncho (Mass Awakening Platform), of which Niloy was an active member, told BenarNews.
“If this is the situation, how on earth are we going to have any faith in her government to protect us?” he said.
“We’re not getting any help from the law enforcers even after the radical Islamists are killing one after another blogger,” he added.
Ansar al-Islam, the Bangladeshi branch of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), claimed it killed Niloy and would carry out similar operations against its enemies, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
On Saturday, Bangladeshi Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the government would hunt down Niloy’s killers, according to Agence France-Presse.
On Sunday, however, Inspector General of Police A.K.M. Shahidul Haq advised bloggers to refrain from writing anything that could hurt the religious sentiment of commoners.
“No one should cross the limit,” AFP quoted the police chief as telling reporters. He added that people charged with hurting religious sentiment could face 14 years in prison.
People should also inform the police about potential violators, he said.
The names of Niloy and the four other bloggers killed since 2013 – Ahmed Rajib Haider, Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman and Ananta Bijoy Das – were on a list of 84 people threatened by Hefazat-e-Islam, a madrassa-based group that represents 70,000 religious schools across Bangladesh.
Four other people on that list told BenarNews they lived in constant fear and were trying to flee the country. All four requested anonymity.
They seldom go out, and “if there is an urgent need to go out, we move in a group,” one of them told BenarNews.
At least two of the slain bloggers – Ananta Bijoy Das, who was killed in the northeastern town of Sylhet in May, and Niloy, the latest victim – were trying to leave the country.
“Niladri was trying to go abroad and was in discussion with some people about his move,” Ashamoni, his widow, told BenarNews.
“I know about Ananta. He was trying to leave the country but could not, as he didn’t get a Swedish visa,” Omi Rahman Pial, a founding member of the blogging community, told BenarNews.
Since Hefazat circulated the hit-list in 2013, most bloggers have lived in perpetual fear, unable to lead normal lives, according to Pial.
“We won’t get police protection. We won’t get a visa. Where should we go then?” Pial said.
“Should we just die sitting idle, or should we fight back? But for that we need support of the law enforcers. This is the reality,” Pial added.
Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Sujon, a rights group campaigning for rule of law and social justice, blamed the government for its inability to ensure freedom of speech and movement for secular-minded people.
“This is unacceptable in a country whose constitution guarantees free speech, secularism and democracy,” Majumdar told BenarNews.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Niladri Chottopaddhya as Niladri Chakrabarty.