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Protesters Take to the Streets Over Atheist American Blogger Hacked to Death in Dhaka

On Thursday, Avijit Roy, an US-Bangladeshi blogger and author was killed by two men with machetes. Protesters at Dhaka University are now demanding the arrest of his killers.

by Syed Tashfin Chowdhury
Feb 27 2015, 7:29pm

Photo by A.M. Ahad/AP

Avijit Roy, an atheist US-Bangladeshi blogger and author, was brutally hacked to death in Dhaka on Thursday night. And from Friday's early hours, people have rallied near the scene to protest the murders and demand the capture of the attackers. A day-long strike has also been declared for Monday.

Around 8.45pm on Thursday, 44-year-old Roy and his wife Rafida Ahmed Banna, who both live in the US, were on their way home from an annual book fair at Dhaka University when they were attacked by two men, local police told VICE News.

Eye-witnesses claimed that the couple was hacked at with machetes by the two suspects. While Roy sustained severe blows to his head and other parts of his body, his wife's thumb was severed during the attack. The men dropped their weapons at the scene and left their victims in a bloodied state. While the couple was rushed to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) nearby, Roy succumbed to his injuries around 10.30pm.

On Friday, students and teachers of Dhaka University gave a 24-hour ultimatum to the authorities to apprehend the two killers who attacked Roy and his wife in one of the busiest areas of the campus.

Hundreds of protestors gathered at the same spot where the pair was attacked, at the TSC intersection, a few meters from the Shahbagh police station. The demonstrators held placards and posters demanding justice, while others called for action against Islamic militants, who are suspected by authorities for the attack.

After being treated at DMCH, Banna was moved to a private hospital in the early hours of Friday morning. Hospital authorities told VICE News that she remains in a critical condition.

Roy, who advocated secularism, had written about 10 books, including the best-selling Biswasher Virus (Virus of Faith). He was also the founder of Mukto-mona, (Free Mind) blog that promoted liberal secular writing. Roy's family members suspect that he was attacked for his secular views and he had reportedly received death threats from militants before Thursday's attack.

Roy's father, Ajay, a retired physics professor of Dhaka University, told AFP that Roy had received "threatening" emails and messages on social media from hardliners unhappy with his writing.

Roy and his wife had come to Bangladesh on February 16 to attend events for his books at the annual fair. The attack on Roy is similar to the 2004 attack on prominent writer Humayun Azad, during that year's book fair, in the same area and time of the day. Azad survived that incident but died in Germany only months later.

Dr. Fahmidul Haq, a professor at Dhaka University's mass media and communication department, took part in Friday's protests.

"The government has the capacity to identify and arrest these criminals," he told VICE News. "But it seems their priorities lie elsewhere."

Haq continued: "It seems a particular group is carrying out these attacks," while alluding to the similar murder of blogger Rajib Haider on February 15, 2013.

Haider, an architect by profession, was hacked to death near his house in Mirpur area of Dhaka. Over the next few months, police arrested five students from North South University, the first private university in Bangladesh, for Haider's murder. The suspects later confessed that they killed Haider for blog posts that ridiculed Islam.

"These extremists do not realize that through such violent and heinous acts they are actually drifting away from the true teachings of Islam that does not promote violence," Haq told VICE News.

Later in the evening, three torch-lit processions were also brought out by protestors in the DU campus. Similar demonstrations were also organized in other parts of Bangladesh.

Whether these protests will ensure concrete measures against the Roy's killers remains to be seen. Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua expressed his doubt to VICE News, as he pointed out that most of the previous crimes in Bangladesh, where religious extremism was involved, are yet to be resolved. "For example, in Haider's murder case, all of the accused are already out on bail," he said.

Barua also pointed out that the situation is the same with those accused in the 2012 Ramu attack in Cox's Bazar District of south-east Bangladesh. On September 29, 2012, thousands of rioters attacked a Buddhist community and its temples in two areas following a rumor that Uttam Barua, a Buddhist youth had insulted the Holy Quran on Facebook.

Barua, the barrister, stated that no headway has been made in the trials of the suspects, mostly hailing from ruling party and major opposition parties, who led these rioters. He also pointed out a similar case when Ahmed Miraz was killed on March 10, 2013. Miraz was the younger brother of musician Ahmed Imtiaz Bulbul, a key witness to alleged crimes against humanity during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. "There has been no demand in the local media for the arrest of Miraz's killers since," Barua said.

"It seems that if a political background is added to a criminal offence, then the offenders will most likely go unpunished in this country," he continued, adding that he hoped that the government will uphold the rule of law and that security is strengthened in Bangladesh's state-owned academic institutions.