A year has elapsed since the killing of Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy, but police have yet to arrest his attackers and those who killed three more secular writers and a publisher in 2015.
Online activists and secularists allege that the government and police have been more active in arresting bloggers, writers and publishers for allegedly offending religious feelings than catching the killers of the five intellectuals.
“The fanatics have been attacking the free thinkers with machetes while the state, with its various mechanisms, has been putting pressure on the bloggers, writers, publishers and other liberal groups,” said Imran H. Sarker, spokesman for Gonojagoron Moncho (Mass Awakening Platform), a secular grassroots movement.
“How many of the killers of the bloggers and publishers were arrested or punished? But you see the police are very prompt to arrest the publishers or bloggers on the pretext of hurting religious sentiment,” Sarker told BenarNews.
On Feb. 15, police arrested the publisher, printer and marketer of a book called “Islam Bitorko” (“Islam Debate”), and shut down the stall at the Ekushey Book Fair in Dhaka where copies of the work were being sold.
Machete-wielding assailants killed Roy and injured his wife Rafida Bonya Ahmed on the Dhaka University campus on Feb. 26, 2015, as they were leaving last year’s annual book fair.
Roy, an engineer and writer who was visiting Bangladesh from his home in the United States, ran the Mukto-Mona (Free Thinker) blog, which provided an online platform for the expression of secular thought in Bangladesh.
Since 2013, police have arrested four bloggers – Asif Mohiuddin, Moshiur Rahman Biplob, Rasel Parvez and Subroto Shuvo – for allegedly hurting religious sentiment.
Sarker said the blogger-killings and attacks on intellectuals had a negative impact on young people who were active in online campaigning against religious fanaticism and for social change in Bangladesh.
“The fanatics’ machete attacks and the police actions on the free-thinkers have passed on a message to the society that you will either be killed or face police action if you become a free-thinker. So, the number of bloggers and online activists has come down significantly. Most of the bloggers and atheists are leaving the country,” said Sarker.
Mahbub Leelen, a publisher and writer who has fled Bangladesh, said that government inaction on the killings had sent a message of encouragement to fundamentalists.
“They are getting green signals from the government, either directly or indirectly that, if they kill someone, nothing will happen,” Leelen told BenarNews.
Roy’s murder opened a floodgate for killings of bloggers, writers and free thinkers in 2015.
Bloggers Washiqur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Das, Niladri Chottopaddhya (Niloy Neel) and Faisal Arefin Dipan, a publisher of Roy’s books, were all hacked to death in 2015.
Eight suspected militants have been arrested in connection with the murders, but police are not sure whether these individuals are the actual killers, Maruf Hasan Sarder, a spokesman for Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told BenarNews.
“The U.S. government agency, FBI, came to Dhaka and collected samples of DNA from the spot where Avijit and his wife were attacked. We have yet to get the DNA profile report from the FBI. If available, the profile report would help us find out the real killers,” Sarder said.
He refuted the allegation that police were harassing free thinkers and bloggers.
On Thursday, Monirul Islam, the deputy inspector general in charge of the police department’s counter-terrorism unit, told a press conference that police had detected three alleged Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) militants who had participated in Roy’s murder.
But police would not disclose their names, Islam said.
Police and investigators say the ABT – a banned militant outfit that has attracted students from different colleges in Bangladesh – is responsible for all the attacks on the bloggers, secularists and publishers.
On Dec. 31, 2015, a court handed down death sentences for two ABT militants in the killing of Ahmed Rajib Haider, the first blogger to be slain in Bangladesh, in February 2013.
Haider was hacked to death in broad daylight on a Dhaka street amid mass demonstrations that demanded a secular society and capital punishment for criminals from Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971. Haider had been instrumental in mobilizing the so-called Mass Awakening protests in Dhaka’s Shahbag Square.
‘He did not pay heed’
A year later, Roy’s relatives are enduring a painful wait for justice in his murder.
“There is no question of being satisfied with the pace of investigation,” Roy’s father, retired Dhaka University physics professor Ajoy Roy, told BenarNews.
“I will not be happy until the real killers get punishment. Unless the culprits are tried, the freedom of expression cannot be ensured. The bloggers, writers, publishers must be given a congenial atmosphere to write against social evils.”
The elder Roy said he had asked his son and daughter-in-law not to come to Bangladesh a year ago.
“But he did not pay heed to my words. And it happened, what I feared,” he said.
Contacted by BenarNews, Roy’s widow declined to comment on the anniversary of his death.
“It is too emotional for me,” Rafida Bonya Ahmed said.
Imran Vittachi in Washington contributed to this report.