A Bangladeshi court on Thursday indicted six suspected militants, including a former army officer, on murder charges related to the killing of secular blogger Avijit Roy more than four years ago.
Four of the suspects appeared in court and pleaded not guilty after Judge Mujibur Rahman of the Bangladesh Anti-Terrorism Tribunal in Dhaka read out the charges against them. Two others, including renegade ex-army Maj. Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque (alias Major Zia), remained at large, according to court documents.
Rahman called for presentation of testimonies starting Sept. 11.
Roy, a science writer, was hacked to death in February 2015 as he was leaving a book fair in Dhaka by assailants who targeted him for his secular views, according to police. Roy ran a well-known blog for secular intellectuals in Bangladesh.
Public prosecutor Jahangir Alam Chowdhury said five members of a banned militant outfit –Major Zia along with Mozammel Hossain (alias Saimon), Abu Siddique Sohel (alias Sakib), Arafat Rahman Siam (alias Sajjad) and Akram Hossain (alias Abir) – were indicted Thursday, as well as suspected extremist Shafiur Rahman Farabi, who allegedly threatened Roy and instigated the killing through social media.
“Except for Shafiur Rahman Farabi, all five suspects belonged to Ansar-al-Islam, a militant outfit also known as ABT (Ansarullah Bangla Team). Farabi is an extremist and made posts on his Facebook page calling for Avijit’s murder,” Chowdhury told BenarNews.
“With the framing of the charges, the trial of Avijit Roy’s murder case formally starts today,” he said. In Bangladesh, the submission of plea is regarded as the start of the actual trial.
After more than four years of investigation, the police counter terrorism unit submitted the charge sheet against the six suspects in March and the court accepted the charges on April 11, Chowdhury told BenarNews.
The court previously announced the start of trial on April 30. Chowdhury on Thursday explained what caused the delay.
“The court exhausted all the procedures before charge framing. The procedures included issuing official gazettes on two fugitives, ordering warrants against them and publishing newspaper advertisements asking them to surrender,” he said. “These steps caused the delays.”
“If we skipped any of the steps before charge framing, the defendants would go to the High Court for bail alleging violation of judicial procedures. Then the trial could have been lost its merit,” Chowdhury said.
Roy’s father said he knew little about Thursday’s court action.
“I have come to know that the charges were framed. But I do not know the details,” professor Ajay Roy told BenarNews.
Book fair attack
Roy, an American secular blogger of Bangladeshi origin, was killed on the Dhaka University campus as he was leaving the Ekushey Book Fair with his wife, Rafida Bonya Ahmed. She was seriously injured but survived the attack and has since moved to London.
The investigation stalled for more than two years, family members alleged while police said they were continuing the process.
The charge sheet said the police analyzed video footage shot between Feb. 17 and Feb. 26, 2015, and detected seven ABT members involved in the killing.
Mukul Rana, identified as one of the men who directly attacked Roy, died in a shootout with the police. Two other suspects – Manna Yahya (alias Mannan Rahi) and Abul Bashar – died of unspecified causes after being taken into police custody.
Charges against the three dead men were dropped in April along with charges against seven people deemed innocent and five others whose identities could not be confirmed.
Police allege that militants, mainly members of ABT, killed as many as 10 secular intellectuals including Roy between February 2013 and April 2016.
Poet and self-proclaimed atheist Shahzahan Bachchu was the last blogger killed in June 2018, police said. Bachchu was dragged from a tea shop and shot dead in his home village in Munshiganj after years of receiving death threats from suspected militants.