Bangladesh must act against impunity

Index on Censorship deplores the killing of blogger Niloy Chakrabarti in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and calls on the authorities to investigate the murder and ensure that those responsible are found and brought to justice.

“We strongly condemn Niloy Chakrabarti’s brutal murder,” said Index’s senior advocacy officer Melody Patry. “We fear the death toll will increase if the authorities fail to take action to find and punish those responsible. Freedom of expression is in danger and Bangladesh must do more to protect writers online and offline.”

Chakrabarti, who wrote under the pen name Niloy Neel, is the fourth secular blogger to be murdered since the start of the year. A member of Bangladesh’s Science and Rationalist Association, he was attacked in his home in Dhaka.

In May, Ananta Bijoy Das was attacked and killed with machetes. On 30 March writer Washiqur Rahman, who was also known for his atheist views, was stabbed to death. In February, fellow atheist Avijit Roy was hacked to death by a knife-wielding mob in Dhaka as he walked back from a book fair.

Niloy Neel – Died 7 August 2015; killed in his flat in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh. Neel was an anti-fundamentalist and anti-extremist blogger, and a known atheist who’d written pieces critical of religion. Other causes he wrote on were the rights of ethnic minorities and women. He was a regular contributor to Mukto-mona and Ishtishon. Currently, he was an activist of the Ganajagaran Mancha, the platform demanding capital punishment for the 1971 Islamic war criminals who’d recently been sentenced to life imprisonment in Bangladesh. He was murdered by an Islamic fundamentalist gang.

Ananta Bijoy Das – Died 12 May 2015 in Sylhet, Bangladesh. Das reportedly wrote for “Mukto-Mona” (“Free-mind”), and his pieces were often critical of religion. Islamist groups stated that his murder was a punishment for “crimes against Islam”. Das sought to be less controversial in his writing but death threats increased against him as more and more bloggers were being murdered. One of his last posts was critical of Bangladeshi police and how they did not protect secular writers. Also a Ganajagaran Manch activist.

Washiqur Rahman – Died 30 March 2015 in Dhaka. Rahman was targeted for his anti-Islamic writing, as told to police by the suspects taken into custody for the murder. Rahman frequently criticized what he saw as irrational fundamentalist groups; he was not an atheist by any means, but he held different religious views than his more extremist attackers. He was said to have written a 52-episode series for an anti-religion satirical site called which mocked aspects of Islam. He was also a Ganajagaran Manch activist.

Avijit Roy – Died 26 February 2015. Bangladeshi born US national. Roy founded the Mukto-Mona website, and his pieces often criticized religious intolerance. He was also a known advocate for freedom of speech in Bangladesh and would organize protests against international censorship and imprisonment of bloggers. Islamic militant organization Ansarullah Bangla Team claimed responsibility for the attack. He also was involved with the Ganajagaran Manch.

Index condemns murder of Bangladeshi secular blogger

Index on Censorship condemns the brutal murder of Bangladeshi blogger Ananta Bijoy Das — the third such attack since February. AFP reported that attackers wearing masks hacked atheist blogger Das to death with machetes. The murder follows that of fellow atheist Avijit Roy, a blogger who advocated secularism, and who was hacked to death by a knife-wielding mob in Dhaka as he walked back from a book fair in February. Weeks later atheist writer Washiqur Rahman was stabbed to death in the capital.

Index CEO Jodie Ginsberg said: “Our sympathies are with the family of Ananta Bijoy Das. Like Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman, he was targeted simply for expressing his own beliefs. We are appalled by these deaths and call on Bangladesh and the international community to do more to protect such writers.”

Padraig Reidy: Sentenced to death for not believing in God

Blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death in (Photo: Avijit Roy/Facebook)

Blogger Avijit Roy was murdered in February. (Photo: Avijit Roy/Facebook)

Washiqur Rahman was murdered because he didn’t believe in God.

On the morning of 30 March 2015, the 27-year-old was set upon by three machete-wielding attackers and hacked to death because he did not believe in God.

The previous month, 42-year-old Avijit Roy was murdered because he didn’t believe in God.

One of the accusations most often levelled at self-proclaimed atheists is that they go on about it too much. What is there even to talk about? Why join, say the British Humanist Association or a university atheist group? What do you do? Go to meetings and drone on about not believing in God? And someone should just get that Richard Dawkins off Twitter, right?

Rahman and Roy were the kind of vocal atheist that tends to prompt eye-rolling in liberal secular countries.

Roy was a frontrunner, a star. He was the creator of Mukto-Mona, which claimed to be the first secular humanist web portal in South Asia. He described Mukto-Mona’s mission as “to build a society which will not be bound by the dictates of arbitrary authority, comfortable superstition, stifling tradition, or suffocating orthodoxy but would rather be based on reason, compassion, humanity, equality and science.”

Based in the US, Roy had returned to Bangladesh to visit his sick mother, despite warnings that the country was no longer safe for him. He was well-known enough to be stopped in the street for autographs. An appearance at a book fair in Dhaka had alerted Islamist extremists to his presence in the country.

Rahman was an up and coming blogger with a big Facebook following. He wrote under the name Kutshit Hasher Chhana (The Ugly Duckling), satirising religion and believers. Like many online activists, he had been horrified by the murder of Roy, and had lent support to a campaign calling for the prosecution of his killers, posting to the #IAmAvijit hashtag.

This, it seems, was enough to get him killed. Suspicion for the killings of both bloggers lies with the Ansarullah Bangla Team, an extremist organisation said to take inspiration from Anwar al-Awlaki, the American preacher killed by a US drone attack in 2011. The group, which was formed in 2013, has been implicated in the murder of atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider in February of that year. The organisation recently hit the headlines in Bangladesh after it called for a jailbreak to free prisoners tied to Jamaat-e-Islami, who are on trial for war crimes that took place during Bangladesh’s war for independence from Pakistan.

The International Crimes Tribunal has been the backdrop for a fraught few years in Bangladesh. The tribunal has been criticised for lacking impartiality, particularly after leaked Skype conversations between the presiding judge, Mohammed Nizamul Huq, and a war crimes activist were published by The Economist, via Oliullah Noman, a journalist for opposition newspaper Amardesh in December 2012.

Increasing divisions were exacerbated by the governing Awami League’s decision to abandon the usual protocol of making way for an interim government to oversee the January 2014 election. The main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, boycotted the election in protest, and the Commonwealth, the EU and the US declined to send monitors, calling the legitimacy of the result into question. The political division in Bangladesh operates roughly on a secular/religious line, with the Awami League seen as more secular and the BNP representing a more religious viewpoint.

Amidst all this upheaval, online atheists are under pressure. The two murders this year followed the attacks in 2013. Meanwhile, in spring 2013 four secularist bloggers were arrested for “offending religious sentiment” by denigrating the Prophet Mohammed, a colonial era law which is the closest Bangladesh comes to an official blasphemy statute.

Bangladesh is not Pakistan. It retains a secular identity that is fast slipping (it’s hard now to imagine a Pakistani atheist blogger operating for 13 years, as Roy did). But it cannot be entirely immune to the cross-border influences of extremist Islamism and jihadism unless it protects the free expression of non believers.

That is why the reaction to the murder of Washiqur Rahman from the deputy commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan police made depressing reading:

“Those who killed him differed on his ideologies about religion. He was not an atheist. He was a believer. But the way he followed religion was different from the way radical groups insist,” Biplob Kumar Sarkar told the Guardian.

Though Sarkar may have been attempting to calm the situation, the statement is a gross display of disrespect to the murder victim and his views.

Moreover, it’s a refusal to confront the prime motivation for his killing, and that of Ajivit Roy. They were killed because they were atheists who refused to keep quiet about their beliefs.

Washiqur Rahman was murdered because he didn’t believe in God.

Avijit Roy was murdered because he didn’t believe in God.

This column was posted on 16 April 2015 at