Dhaka blogger hacked to death

Writer known for his anti-religious views had received death threats

By JULFIKAR ALI MANIK and NIDA NAJAR in Dhaka
  • Published 28.02.15
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(From top) Avijit Roy's body lies in the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital morgue; Flowers at the site where Roy was killed; Avijit Roy

Dhaka, Feb. 27: A Bangladeshi-American blogger known for his antipathy to religion was hacked to death on a Dhaka street by two assailants wielding machetes, the police said today.

The attack comes amidst a crackdown on hardline Islamist groups, which have increased activities in recent years in the South Asian nation.

The victim, Avijit Roy, who the local news media said was about 40, was leaving a book fair with his wife last evening when his attackers approached him from behind, according to the police. His wife, Rafida Ahmed, suffered a blow to the head and was in critical condition in a Dhaka hospital, said Sirajul Islam, an officer at the Shahbag police station, where Roy's father reported the assault.

Police retrieved two machetes from the site, but have not yet identified any suspects. They said they were investigating the involvement of Ansarullah Bangla Team, an Islamist extremist group based in Bangladesh that claimed responsibility today for the murder.

Roy, an American citizen, was a prolific writer on secularism and condemned religious extremism, particularly through his blog, Mukto-Mona (Free Mind).

He also wrote on the website of the Centre for Inquiry, an organisation based in the US dedicated to humanist thinking and critiques of religion.

In a recent article, Roy described the release of his 2014 book, Bishwasher Virus (The Virus of Faith).

"The death threats started flowing to my email inbox on a regular basis" after the book came out, he wrote.

One extremist, he wrote, "issued death threats to me through his numerous Facebook statuses".

In one of those threats he said the extremist wrote: "Avijit Roy lives in America and so, it is not possible to kill him right now. But he will be murdered when he comes back."

Michael De Dora, the director of the Centre for Inquiry's office of public policy, expressed sadness at Roy's death in a statement on the centre's website.

"Avijit was brilliant, yes, and a devoted advocate of free expression and secularism, but also just a very good person," De Dora said. "Avijit was an inspiration to countless other freethinkers, in Bangladesh and around the world, and he was an inspiration to me."

Krishna Pada Roy, a deputy commissioner of detectives with the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said today that the police were investigating various possible motives for the killing, including extremist zeal.

In 2013, another Bangladeshi blogger, Rajib Haider, was killed by unknown attackers. He had been a leading organiser of a series of protests that year demanding harsher punishment for perpetrators of crimes in Bangladesh's 1971 war for independence. He was also a fierce critic of the Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami.

In 2004, Humayun Azad, a prominent writer and a teacher at Dhaka University, was seriously wounded in a machete attack when he was returning from the same book fair that Roy had attended, according to local news media reports.

Activists and intellectuals gathered at Dhaka University today to protest Roy's death and demand action against those responsible. Many told the local news media that the killing was an attack on free thought.

"Using religion in the attempt to resist freethinking will not be accepted," Khushi Kabir, a rights campaigner, told The Dhaka Tribune.

Roy's family said Islamist radicals had been threatening him in recent weeks because his blog highlighted humanist and rationalist ideas and condemned religious extremism.

"Islamist radicals are behind my son's murder," Ajay Roy told reporters today after filing a murder case with police.

"We mourn but we are not out," read a black banner on the site.

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE