For an act of humanity – taking fatally injured blogger Avijit Roy and his wounded wife Rafida Bonya Ahmed to a hospital – photojournalist Jibon Ahmed lost his job, faced censure from colleagues, and endured repeated questioning by police.
A year after the Feb. 26, 2015, machete attack outside the Ekushey Book Fair that killed Roy and caused Bonya to lose her thumb, Ahmed still recalls the feel of Roy’s blood.
“I did not know that the human blood is so warm. I still feel the heat,” Ahmed said, recalling the night when hundreds of people including on-duty police watched Roy struggle to survive while Bonya screamed for help.
The couple came to Dhaka to attend Bangladesh’s annual book fair that attracts intellectuals from all over the world. While returning home from the Dhaka University campus, suspected Islamic militants stopped their rickshaw, hacked them with machetes and fled the scene, leaving them in pool of blood.
The U.S-based engineer and writer ran the Mukto-Mona (Free Thinker) blog that raised questions about religions, especially Islam.
On that day, the photo agency Ahmed worked for sent him to cover the book fair. He was talking with fellow photojournalists about 10 meters from the spot where Avijit and Bonya were hacked.
“It was around 7:30 p.m. We suddenly heard a woman screaming. I immediately rushed to the spot,” he said. “There I saw a woman was lying near a parked motorcycle with her head directed toward the ground.”
He twice patted her, but got no response. After his third touch, Bonya responded.
“She gave me a witch’s look like you see in a horror movie: blood was oozing out of her shoulder and her eyes. She thought I was one of the attackers,” Ahmed said.
He told her that she must go with him to a hospital for treatment. Traumatized, Bonya asked, “What happened here?”
A few yards away, Ahmed saw people encircling another injured person, who was shaking on the ground. Bonya rushed to the spot, calling, “Avi, avi” (still alive).
She hugged Roy and stood up, asking someone to take him to a hospital.
“Then I opened my camera and snapped shots showing a blood-soaked Bonya calling for help,” he said.
Ahmed said he stopped a three-seated three-wheeler and took the extreme right seat, holding Roy’s injured head while Bonya sat next to him holding her husband’s body.
“Suddenly I felt that his brain was on my finger where the machete had cut the skull. I removed the finger and gently pushed the skull to stop the brain from coming out of his head,” Ahmed said.
As the three-wheeler headed toward the hospital south of the crime scene, Bonya panicked, thinking Ahmed was abducting them.
“She started asking me to let them go in exchange for as much money as I wanted. I brought out my camera and was repeatedly assuring her that I was a photojournalist, not an attacker. But she did not believe me,” he said.
The vehicle got stuck in a traffic jam created by a police check post.
“Watching the police, Bonya started screaming for help. She was telling the police that I was abducting them. Now, I was in fear lest I face lynching or police action,” Ahmed said.
“Suddenly, I saw a policeman who was following our scooter from behind. He witnessed everything. As he gestured, the police barricade was removed and I took them to the hospital,” he said.
Fellow photographers at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital scolded him, saying he had violated journalistic ethics.
“I should not have taken them to the hospital, they said. ‘Now, you will face the police music,’ some of my colleagues taunted,” he said.
While at the hospital, Ahmed removed his blood stained T-shirt and put on a clean one, then left for his office in Motijheel, another part of Dhaka.
“I immediately came to my office in Motijheel and released the photos. I did not know them. Suddenly I saw breaking news on TV that the persons I took to the hospital were Avijit Roy and Rafida Bonya Ahmed,” he said.
His boss told him to go into hiding and to stay away from the office.
“By that time I was totally upset. I could not figure out what I should do. But later on I decided that I must not hide,” he said.
His photo of the event spread quickly on Facebook, where hundreds of people posted negative comments about him for taking pictures instead of helping the victims.
Meanwhile, police began questioning him to determine if he was linked to the killers. “They quizzed me at least five times,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed said he lost his job due to his unwitting role in the tragic evening.
“I have no relatives in Dhaka. I come from Khulna. Losing my job, I had to sell camera to survive,” he said.
“But I finally got relief as Bonya confirmed that I was not one of the killers, I was the rescuer.”
Ahmed is now a freelance photographer.
“I still remember the events even one year after the incident. My headache problem has worsened since then. I cannot talk for long. Now, I try to remain isolated,” he told BenarNews.
He said he would not talk to the media about Roy’s murder anymore.
“Nobody cared about me and the issue. What is the meaning of doing a story after one year?” he asked.