An Appeal from Muktomona to Keep Secular Bangladesh Safe from Religious Fundamentalism

By |August 19th, 2015

Four Writers Killed in Six Months

With the first murder happening in February 2015, so far this year Bangladeshi Islamic fundamentalists have hacked to death four secular, humanist, atheist activist, bloggers and writers. On February 26, Mukto-Mona founder Avijit Roy was attacked from behind and murdered in the Dhaka University TSC area when he was on his way back from the Boi Mela; during the same attack his wife and fellow activist Mukto-Mona writer Bonya Ahmed was severely wounded. Following the murder, the Islamic fundamentalist group Ansarullah Bangla Team, and, later, Al Qaeda’s Indian branch (AQIS), released statements claiming responsibility. Although this vicious murder was strongly condemned nationally and internationally, the Bangladesh government, while claiming to be secular, not only refrained from denouncing the murder, it made no official response. In the same way, the law and order forces of Bangladesh have remained inactive and failed to identify and bring the murderers to justice. Thus, although five and a half months have passed since the murder, the killers remain out of reach.

The murderers did not stop once they had killed science writer Avijit Roy under cover of the darkness of night. Encouraged by the culture of impunity, the murderers immediately began planning for the next one. In accordance with those plans, the members of an Ansarullah Bangla Team sleeper cell rented a house in Jatrabari and began readying themselves for the next murder. One member was caught by patrol police while he was practicing how to move about in public while carrying cleavers and other weapons. The other members of the cell, despite having lost one member, moved ahead with their plans.

Within one month of Avijit Roy’s murder, on March 30, atheist blogger Washiqur Rahman Babu was murdered when he was on his way to work. Two of the murderers were caught due to the courageous actions of two passersby. According to the two apprehended killers, they had never read any of Babu’s writings, had no idea who Babu was. They had hacked Babu to death obeying the instructions of their hujoor. Although the police had two of the killers in custody, they have failed to identify or capture the masterminds that planned the murder.

Within six weeks of Washiqur’s murder, on May 12, Ananta Bijoy Das, who was a Mukto-Mona blogger, organizer of the Sylhet Gana Jagoron Mancha, founder and General Secretary of the Science and Rationalists Council, was hacked to death in public, right in front of his own home, as he left for work. The killers chased Ananta Bijoy for about twenty five meters to a pond near his house, and hacked him to death with a cleaver in full view of people.

Neeladri Chatterjee (known as “Niloy Neel”), who was a Mukto-Mona writer, an active organizer for the Gana Jagoron Mancha, and founder of Bangladesh Science and Rationalists Association, was followed by a group of Islamic fundamentalists on his way back from a protest rally being held in Dhaka by the Gana Jagoron Mancha mourning the murder of Ananta Bijoy. When he realized he was being stalked, he informed the police. The police not only evaded any responsibility, they even refused to let him file a General Diary (GD). On Friday, August 7, in broad daylight, a group entered Neeladri’s home, threatened his partner and her younger sister with weapons and locked them up, and then hacked him to death in the next room. He wrote in Mutko-Mona, Istishan, Dhormockery, and other blogs, as well as on Facebook under the names of Niloy Neel and NC Neel. Just like Avijit’s murder, Ansarullah Bangla Team proudly laid claim to the murders of Washiqur, Ananta and Neeladri.

Not only atheist writers—in the last few years several progressive individuals, including a university professor, was murdered by these fundamentalist groups. To finance their activities as fundamentalists, Ansarullah Bangla Team has committed bank robberies, and during a robbery they killed several people including the bank manager. [1] It is also suspected that they are responsible for the murder of Anjali Rani Debi, an instructor at a Chittagong-based nursing college, for offending Islam. [2] In addition to these killings, to keep fear alive among the common population, and to increase the zeal of their followers and other aggressive Muslims, the fundamentalists have begun publishing new hit lists and sending out threats to people on a regular basis. After Neeladri’s murder, a new hit list of 19 individuals was sent to various news media signed by the fundamentalist group Ittehadul Mujahedeen; the very first name on that list was Neeladri’s, which had been crossed out in red ink.

The Government’s Failure and Placing Blame on the Writers

Following these four pre-announced killings in the space of six months, after demonstrations and protests, the government of Bangladesh and the police force finally made a formal public response. However, instead of solving these serial killings, the authorities justified these murders by indirectly placed the responsibility and blame on the shoulders of the bloggers and writers being attacked—leaving us stunned.

Two days after Neeladri was murdered, on August 8, the Prime Minister mentioned the blogger killings at a program organized by the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs. She said, “We cannot allow this to continue in Bangladesh. Bangladeshis are peace-loving. The Father of the Nation gave us liberation. Therefore, we must uphold the consciousness of that liberation… There are all kinds of things happening in the country and the government is dealing with them. At least our government is not sitting idle.” She said, “On the one hand they’re murdering people, and on the other they’ll use religious sensibility to gain political mileage. We will not let that happen…at least not in Bangladesh.” [3]

We thank the Prime Minister, for announcing, even if after all this time, that her government is ‘not sitting idle’. Although it is hard to find any reflection of this announcement in the actions of the state ever since this festival of writer and blogger murders commenced, still we were hopeful that perhaps this time the state’s ‘idleness’ would truly dissipate, they would try to catch the murderers, they would rip apart the web of fundamentalism that exists in Bangladesh and try to destroy them. But our hopes were crushed, because with astonishment we noted that senior government officials seemed to suddenly revive from their idleness and become vocal against the atheist bloggers, they became engaged in trying to arrest them and bring them to justice!
Because of the politics of religious sensibility, after Avijit Roy’s murder, the Prime Minister was unable to say anything in public, she had to telephone Avijit Roy’s family in secret to condole with them. We found out the reason for such secrecy later from her son Sajeeb Wazed Joy. In response to Bonya Ahmed’s Reuters interview where she criticized the government’s handling of the Avijit Roy murder investigation Joy stated that the situation in Bangladesh was too volatile for his mother to comment publicly on the murder; so she condoled with Avijit Roy’s father personally. After mentioning Avijit Roy as an ‘avowed atheist’, the Reuters article went on to quote Sajeeb Joy: “We (the Awami League) do not want to be known as atheists. But this does not deflect us from our key principles. We believe in secularism.” [4]

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