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Bangladeshi Students Take to Streets After Activist Is Hacked to Death

Liberal bloggers being attacked with machetes has become a persistent phenomenon in Bangladesh, while the government fails to arrest the murderers and clamps down on freedom of expression.

by VICE News and Reuters
Apr 7 2016, 12:00pm

Des étudiants de la Jagannath University se rassemblent autour de pneus qui brûlent à Dacca, le 7 avril 2016. (Photo de Monirul Alam/EPA)

Hundreds of students demonstrated in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka on Thursday after attackers wielding machetes killed a man who had criticized Islamism online, the latest in series of murders of secular activists by suspected Islamist militants.

Postgraduate law student Nazimuddin Samad, 28, was attacked as he was returning from a class at his university in the capital, Dhaka, late on Wednesday, police said.

Police officer Tapan Chandra Shaha said three or four men attacked Samad with machetes and then shot him after he fell to the ground. People heard the attackers shouting "Allahu akbar" (God is great) as they fled, he said.

Samad had criticized state religion on his Facebook page, reported the Guardian, writing "Evolution is a scientific truth. Religion and race are invention of the savage and uncivil people." His name appeared on a hit list of 84 "enemies of Islam" drawn up by a group of hardline clerics which was widely publicized in Bangladeshi media in March 2013.

He deactivated his Facebook account about a month ago, his friend Wafi Chowdhury told the Guardian.

Imran H. Sarker, convener of the BOAN online activist group, said Samad was an outspoken critic of injustice and militancy. "We found him always a loud voice against all injustice and also a great supporter of secularism," Sarker told Reuters.

Samad was also reported to have been an organizer of the Ganajagran Manch, a secular campaigning group, said the BBC.

Last year, suspected militants killed five secular writers and a publisher, including Bangladeshi-American activist Ajavit Roy, and severely injured others. A banned Islamist militant group, Ansarullah Bangla Team, claimed responsibility for some of the attacks, many of which took place during daylight hours in busy places.

Related: Trapped Between Murder and Repression: Life as an Atheist Blogger in Bangladesh

Hordes of students from the Jagannath University where Samad studied took to the streets the following morning to protest against his murder and demanded the prompt arrest of the killers.

They blocked roads in and around the university and told reporters that if those behind the earlier murders of bloggers had been punished then Samad would not have been attacked.

"We are protesting here because one of our law students at the university was brutally killed, we want a proper investigation and we want justice for the killing," said student Billal Hossain at the protest.

In the face of public outcry, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has publicly vowed to track down the killers, but the majority of the culprits remain at large. Meanwhile, instead of offering protection to those bloggers who have received death threats, the ruling Awami League has regularly called for them to halt religious criticism in their writings and even pursued criminal proceedings against some under Section 57 of the country's Information, Communications, and Technology Act — a de-facto blasphemy law that observers say is also used to silence government critics.

Bangladesh has seen a wave of militant violence over the past year or so, including a series of bomb attacks on mosques and Hindu temples.

Some recent attacks have been claimed by Islamic State (IS), including the killing of Hindu priest, a Japanese citizen, an Italian aid worker and a policeman. The government denies that IS has a presence in the Muslim-majority country of 160 million people.

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