Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American writer and blogger who founded the Mukto-Mona (Free Mind) blog, was hacked to death close to University of Dhaka in Bangladesh on Thursday, February 26, 2015. His wife, blogger Rafida Ahmed Bonna, was also severely injured when unidentified assailants stabbed them near the campus where the national book fair Ekushey Boi Mela is taking place.
Roy was born in Bangladesh but was a naturalized American citizen. He had just returned to his native country from the US a week before his death to attend a launch ceremony for his new book at the fair.
So far, no arrests have been made in the killing, which sparked outrage on social media:
From my FB page. Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy hacked to death in Dhaka. He was a great defender of secularism. http://t.co/Tlsnug4FOB
— Saikat Datta (@saikatd) February 27, 2015
Writer Avijit Roy, who wrote on atheism, hacked to death following threats issued by an Islamic militant on Facebook http://t.co/B3xrRGvQ7J
— Samira Sadeque (@Samideque) February 26, 2015
Devastated to learn that secular-humanist author Avijit Roy has been killed today in BD by the extremists. #IamAvijit pic.twitter.com/qKPt81Bv5w
— Rayhan Rashid (@rayhanrashid) February 26, 2015
Yet another casualty of radical fundamentalism. Dr. @avijit_roy_MM has been hacked to death by Islamists in Bangladesh. #terrorism
— Ishtiaq Rouf (@ishtiaqrouf) February 26, 2015
Roy, who called himself an atheist, wrote on topics including science, society and philosophy. He is known for his books “Biswaser Virus” (Virus of Faith), “Samakamita” (Homosexuality), “Obiswasher Darshon” (Philosophy of Atheists) and “Sunyo theke Mahabiswa” (From Vacuum to the Great World). His writing and blogging had evoked the ire of religious extremists, and he received regular threats from Islamist groups. He often spoke out against Islamist groups, as many other bloggers in Bangladesh do, and promoted critical thinking about all religions.
In December, online newspaper BDNews24 reported that a person named Shafiur Rhaman Farabi had written a threatening Facebook post that read:
Avijit Roy lives in America and so, it is not possible to kill him right now. He will be murdered when he comes back.
Horrifying photos of the attacked couple covered in blood circulated on social media. In one of the photos [Warning: graphic content], Rajida Ahmed Bonna appears to be holding her husband's head while people stand and watch. One of the Twitter accounts that shared the photo wrote, “May be it's Avijit Roy's bloody wife with Husband's Head.#Beheaded He was a top Target 4 last 3/4 years.”
The account also seemed to rejoice in the killing:
LoL !! They have switched off the target's blog site ….No, prob. Target is Down..& wait for the next..InshaAllah.
— Ansar Bangla 7 (@AnsarBn_7) February 26, 2015
The Twitter user was referring to a “hit list” of bloggers who Islamist groups like Hefazat had labeled atheists or blasphemous. Two years ago, blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was brutally killed outside his home in Dhaka because of his writings against war criminals and Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh. His name had appeared on the list, as did Roy's.
Bangladesh is a non-religious parliamentary democracy, meaning there is no sharia or blasphemy law. People who identify as atheist have the same rights as other citizens. However, under Section 295A of Bangladesh's Penal Code (1860), any person who has a “deliberate” or “malicious” intention of “hurting religious sentiments” is liable to imprisonment. Government inaction and police ineffectiveness have also given Islamist groups a certain amount of impunity in recent years.
On February 16, another hit list was published and shared on Facebook threatening the publishers of Roy's books. The author of the list, a user named Salman Ahmed, wrote:
আসুন এমন কিছু প্রকাশকে দেখে নেই যারা কথিত মুক্তমনা ইসলাম বিদ্বেষী নাস্তিকদের বইগুলোকে নিয়মিত প্রকাশ করে যাচ্ছে ।এরাও লেখকদের মত সম অপরাধী, প্রথমে এদেরকে আঘাত করুন ,এদের স্টল জ্বালিয়ে দিন,এদের অফিসে ককটেল,বোমা যাই পান তাই দিয়ে হামলা করুন ।
Look at these publishers who publishes these anti-Islamist atheists’ books. These have also sinned like the writers. First hit them, burn their shops, attack their offices with bombs, IEDs or anything you can get hold of.
Commenting on the lack of protection for atheists in Bangladesh, medical practitioner and activist Pinaki Bhattacharya wrote on Facebook:
বাংলাদেশে সবচেয়ে সহজ টার্গেট একজন নাস্তিক। নাস্তিক মানেই আক্রমন যোগ্য, হত্যা যোগ্য। নাস্তিক কে প্রকাশ্য হুমকি দেয়া হত্যা করা যেন কোন অপরাধ নয়। নির্মম মৃত্যুই যেন তাঁদের প্রাপ্য।
In Bangladesh an easy target is an atheist. As if atheists can be attacked, killed. As if threatening atheists openly is no crime. Painful death is their destiny.
Journalist Polash Datta reminded the police about the existing threats against Avijit Roy:
তাহলে আমরা এভাবেই চলতে থাকব? আমাদের দেশের আইন-কানুনও এভাবেই চলতে থাকবে?
একদিকে প্রধানমন্ত্রী শেখ হাসিনাকে ফেইসবুকে ‘হত্যার হুমকি’ দেয়ার অপরাধে কোনো এক বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় শিক্ষকের সাত বছরের কারাদাণ্ড হবে। আর অন্যদিকে একজন লেখককে হত্যার হুমকি দিয়েও বহাল তবিয়তে ঘুরে বেড়াবে ধর্মান্ধ মৌলবাদী ফারাবি শফিউর রহমান। এবং তার হুমকিমতোই দেশে এসে বৃহস্পিতবার রাতে খুন হবেন কুসংস্কার ও মৌলবাদবিরোধী লেখক অভিজিৎ রায়।
So will we be happy with this? Our law and police are carrying out their affairs like this?
In one instance, a university professor was sentenced to prison for allegedly threatening the prime minister. In another instance, radical fundamentalist Farabi Shafiur Rahman roams around freely after posting a threat against a writer on Facebook. And in line with his threats, anti-fundamentalist writer and free thinker Avijit Roy was killed on a Thursday night.
Even before 2013, renowned writer Humayun Azad was attacked in strikingly similar manner outside of the book fair in February 2004. Earlier this month, the publisher of a Bangla translation of a controversial book by 20th-century Iranian rationalist and politician Ali Dashti about the Prophet Muhammad's life received death threats after displaying the work at Bangladesh's national book fair.
The International Crimes Strategy Forum (ICSF), a body of experts, activists and organisations committed to end impunity for international crimes, wrote in a statement:
The targeted murder of Avijit Roy is a part of the systematic and planned attacks on free and progressive thinking that have been taking place in Bangladesh at regular intervals, especially since the gruesome attack on Professor Humayun Azad ten years ago. Apart from major attacks on progressive symbols such as bomb attacks on Udichi’s Bengali New Year celebrations, and attacks on various Language Monuments throughout the country in 2013, religious extremists have over the years carried out horrific attacks on a number of people.
Haider's violent death in 2013 triggered nationwide protests by thousands of activists at the time, and five people remain on trial for his murder. Since then, other bloggers in addition to Roy have been attacked, too. All trials are incomplete to date.