JMB militants condemned to death row for 2004 attack on secular writer

Sharif Khiam
2022.04.13
Dhaka
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JMB militants condemned to death row for 2004 attack on secular writer Police escort two Muslim extremists after a court sentenced them to death in a February 2004 attack on Dhaka University professor and award-winning author Humayun Azad, in Dhaka, April 13, 2022.
AFP

A Dhaka court convicted and condemned to death four suspected members of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh militant group on Wednesday for attacking a prominent Bengali secular writer with machetes 18 years ago. 

In a bizarre case, the defendants were tried on murder charges although the writer, Humayun Azad, died of heart failure in Germany in August 2004, six months after extremists attacked him at a book fair in Dhaka.

That incident foreshadowed the killing of a U.S.-Bangladeshi secular blogger, Avijit Roy, at the same book festival in February 2015 – a year when Muslim zealots in the South Asian nation terrorized secular Bengali writers by targeting them in a series of machete-killings.

Two defendants, Mohammad Mizanur Rahman Minhaz and Anwarul Alam, were in court to hear that they would be sent to the gallows via death row, while two others, Nur Mohammad Shamim and Salehin Sani, have absconded. A fifth suspect, Hafez Mahmud, died in a gunfight with police, according to officials.

“The prosecution was able to prove beyond doubt the charges brought against the accused. The most heinous crime committed by the accused is unforgivable. All of them are being sentenced to death as they deserve no mercy,” Dhaka Metropolitan Judge Al-Mamun ruled at the end of the trial. In addition to the sentence, he fined each defendant 50,000 taka (U.S. $580).

The prosecutor welcomed the ruling.

“The convicts are leaders at various levels of the JMB,” Abdullah Abu told BenarNews.

“We are satisfied as the killers have been awarded capital punishment,” the prosecutor said while noting it took many years for the court to rule.

On Feb. 27, 2004, militants attacked Azad, one of the most famous feminist, humanist and atheist writers in Bangladesh history, on the campus of Dhaka University where he taught Bengali literature. He was returning home from the annual, month-long Amar Ekushey Book Fair.

On Aug. 12, 2004, he was found dead in Germany, where he had traveled on a scholarship. An attempted murder case filed by his brother, Manzur Kabir, after the attack in Dhaka, was elevated to a murder case after his death.

“This verdict is unexpected. The judge pronounced it without carefully reviewing our submissions,” defense counsel Faruq Ahmed told BenarNews. “He died six months after the attack.”

The defense team pointed to German media reports that an autopsy on Azad had found a natural cause of death.

“The medical examination did not find anything unusual. The doctor found signs of death from cardiac arrest,” the Deutsche Welle news agency said in a report published on Aug. 19, 2004, quoting an official with the German police.

The prosecutor challenged the defense’s argument.

“He died due to the attack. It was proved in court. The verdict is delivered from testimonies of 41 witnesses,” Abdullah said.

Survivors skip court

None of Azad’s survivors were in court for the verdict. His brother, Manzur Kabir, expressed frustration over the investigation.

“When they (investigators) excluded Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi from the charge sheet, we lost interest in it. Whatever might be there in the verdict, we are not so much interested in it,” he told BenarNews – adding that Azad had identified him as one of the attackers.

“He (Sayeedi) might have proven not guilty in the court, but police excluded him from the charges. That is our main grievance,” Kabir said.  

Sayeedi, who was sentenced to death in 2013 for crimes against humanity during Bangladesh’s war for independence in 1971, condemned Azad for his works against fundamentalism.

“The other killings of freethinkers might have been avoided had the verdict been pronounced earlier,” he said, referring to Roy who was hacked to death one day short of the 11th anniversary of Azad’s attack while attending the same book fair, and other writers and publishers.

Local authorities blamed Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), a Bangladeshi militant group aligned with al-Qaeda, for a spate of killings secular writers in 2015 and 2016, including Roy.  

A poet and publisher said the verdict does not make Bangladesh safer for him and others involved in secular communications.

“The fanatics involved in these ideological killings will never think about how many like them have been hanged. If they intend to kill me, they will kill me at a convenient time,” Rabin Ahsan told BenarNews.

He said the delay in reaching a verdict allowed extremism to spread.

“Day by day, we are getting worse. Humayun Azad said that everything would go to the ugly hands,” said Rabin, owner of Shravan Publications. “We are witnessing a more precarious position than he feared.”

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