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Secular Activist Targeted and Killed in Bangladesh

Secular activist Nazimuddin Samad. Image from his Facebook page

Secular activist Nazimuddin Samad. Image from his Facebook page

A 28-year-old law student was murdered by three assailants in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 7, 2016. The young man was most likely targeted for his critiques of religious conservatism.

On Wednesday night around 9pm, Nazimuddin Samad was walking home with a friend along Hrishikesh Das Road in the Laksmibazar section of Dhaka. Three men approached on a motorcycle, wielding machetes. After an altercation in front of many people, they hacked and then shot him to death. The assailants shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) just before launching the deadly assault. They then fled the scene and have yet to be identified. As of April 8, no one had publicly claimed responsibility for the killing.

Nazimuddin Samad was a student of law in the Jagannath University and a vocal critic of religious extremism. Participating in an online discussion mostly through Facebook, Samad had served as an organizer with Ganajagaran Mancha, the group that has been demanding justice for the war crimes of 1971 and the banning of religious politics in the country. According to the Guardian, he lived in the northeastern city of Sylhet, though most of his family members are in London. He had moved to Dhaka for studies two months ago.

He joins the growing list of bloggers whose lives have been lost in similar targeted killings for their progressive and secular views. Police sporadically have arrested some individuals, including members of a banned group called the Ansarullah Bangla Team for these murders. In December 2015, two people were convicted and sentenced to death for the 2013 killing of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was hacked to death on the street at the height of the Shahbag Square protests. No one else has been prosecuted for the killings of six other men, all of whom were targeted for sharing these political beliefs.

In an interview with BBC on 8 April 2016, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said: “I cannot tell just now why it happened or how it happened. I have to know first…..We have to look at his blog whether there is any objectionable stuff.”

When asked whether the killing would somehow be justified if objectionable content was found on Nazimuddin's blog, he replied, “I didn’t want to say that. If you look at the blogs of those who were killed earlier, hurting religion like this, hurting people’s beliefs, its not acceptable anywhere in the world.”

Nazimuddin was an active participant in the 2013 Shahbag Square protests, in which hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis demonstrated against impunity for war criminals. At the height of the protests, which were largely organized online, the government formed a nine-member committee to track bloggers and Facebook users who made derogatory remarks about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. On March 31, representatives of hardliner Muslim clerics submitted a list of 84 bloggers and online activists to a committee formed by the Home Ministry, accusing the bloggers of atheism and writing against Islam. Nazimuddin's name was number 13 on that list.

The list had two categories: secular and atheist bloggers, deemed by the extremists as enemies of Islam, and leaders of the outspoken Ganajagaran Mancha, a group demanding justice for war crimes, of which Nazimuddin was a part.

Nazimuddin had an active voice on Facebook. In August 2015, when the blogger Niloy Neel was killed, Nazimuddin posted some angry comments on Facebook, and was later trolled by Islamists. He quipped:

তোকে কে বলেছে আমার ওয়ালে এসে ঢু মেরে আমার লেখা পড়তে?আমি কি তোকে বাধ্য করেছি আমার লেখা পড়তে?ফেসবুক আমাকে এই অঞ্চলটি দিয়েছে এখানে যা খুশি তা লেখার,বলার।এবং আমার মননে,মস্তিষ্কে যা চিন্তা আসে,ভাব আসে আমি সেটা এখানে প্রকাশ করবোই।তোকে তো কেউ বাধ্য করেনি এটা দেখার বা পড়ার জন্য।
তাহলে কেন এই কুপাকুপি,খুনাখুনি করিস?

Who told you to come to my Facebook wall and read what I write? Did I compel you to read what I write? Facebook has provided me the space to say what I want. The thoughts and emotions that come to my mind, I will share them here. Nobody told you to come and read these.

Then why do you kill people with machetes?

He stopped updating Facebook after his family pressured him. He wrote in a post on August 8, 2015:

আর কিছু লিখবো না।
আর এখানে থাকবো না।
তোমাদের নরক তোমাদের ই থাক।এই নরকে পড়ে সবাই জ্বলে-পুড়ে মরে যাক।তবু কিছু বলব না।তবু কিছু লিখব না।
এখানে জীবনের দাম নেই।নেই ওই অসভ্য জঙ্গিদের কাছে এবং নেই এই সভ্য সরকারের কাছে।

I will not write anything. I will not be here anymore. You stay in this hellhole. You can burn in the rising fire and I will not say anything. I will not write anything. There is no value of life here. Neither the barbarian extremists nor the civilized government value our lives.

He came back to Facebook the following year. On January 22, 2016, he wrote:

যারা শতভাগ ধর্ম মানতে চায় তারাই হয় জঙ্গি।আর যারা ধর্মের বেশিরভাগ নীতি অমান্য করে চলে তারাই হয় মডারেট ধার্মিক। এই মডারেট ধার্মিকগুলা হয় জগাখিচুড়ী টাইপের।জঙ্গিবাদ ও ধর্মের মাঝখানে এই মডারেটরাই তফাত দেখিয়ে ধর্মকে বাঁচিয়ে রাখে।নতুবা ধর্ম এই বিশ্বমানবতা ও শান্তির এক চিরশত্রু হিসেবেই চিহ্নিত হতো।

Those who want to follow the religious scriptures 100 percent become extremists. Those who follow the religion but ignore many of its (old) practices become moderately religious. These moderate persons are in a mess, kind of a mismatch. They keep religion alive by alienating the extremists from the religion. If they were not there, religions would be termed as enemies of humanity and peace.

In recent days, he had supported a petition to remove Islam as Bangladesh’s state religion and soon received more threats on Facebook. Nazimuddin replied to a comment by a teacher where he was told to be vigilant as people were fearing he would be attacked:

ভয় আমার নিজেরও হয় স্যার। অকালে মরে যাওয়ার ভয়। কিন্তু কি করবো স্যার। মাথা নত করে চুপ হয়ে বেঁচে থাকার চেয়ে এ মরণই বোধ হয় ভালো।

I also fear for life, sir. Fear of dying young. But what to do, sir. This death would be better than keeping silent with our heads down.

After his death, Facebook marked his account as “Remembering Nazimuddin Samad.” However, it is plain to see that many supporters of Islamists are still trolling his account. One commenter Dulal Zahish wrote:

ধর্ম নিয়ে কটূক্তি করা যদি নাস্তিকদের বাক স্বাধীনতা হয়,তাহলে চাপাতি দিয়া কোপানো মৌলবাদীদের স্বাধীনতা হবে না কেন ?

If making foul comments about religion is the freedom of speech of the atheists, so why its not a freedom of action of the fundamentalists to use machetes to hack atheists?

With this growing intolerance and repression against atheists, is there any way to stop these killings? Exiled Bangladeshi journalist, Tasneem Khalil, who previously worked for The Daily Star and CNN, and served as a consultant for Human Rights Watch, spoke to human rights activists Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya in an online show about the killings of secular bloggers.

Khalil explains that there is a growing movement of free thinkers who write together on slain blogger Avijit Roy's Mukto Mona blog. Some of them are targeted for killings by followers of Anwar al-Awlaki. The perpetrators of the Paris attacks follow the same ideology. He fears that they are not going to stop anytime soon.

Adit Hasan Khan wrote in an op-ed for the Daily Star that violent crime and religious extremism deserve more attention than sports and viral videos, urging the public to call for accountability and justice in the investigations of these killings.

Read more of our special coverage: Bloggers Under Fire: The Fatal Consequences of Free Thinking in Bangladesh

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