A Bangladeshi blogger was hacked to death by suspected Islamic extremists in Dhaka on Monday, the latest in a string of attacks on secular writers, including the murder of US-based author Avijit Roy during a visit to the country last month.
Washiqur Rahman, 27, was attacked a few hundred yards away from his home in the Begunbari district by three men armed with meat cleavers at around 9:30am on Monday morning, according to police.
Two of the suspected attackers were arrested near the scene, both of them 20-year-old madrassa students, according to police. They said they had carried out the killing as their religious obligation and had been told by an imam that Rahman was insulting Islam.
"Primarily, we are suspecting that he was murdered for writing against religious subjects," Biplob Kumar Sarkar, deputy police commissioner of Dhaka's Tejgaon division, told VICE News.
Rahman, who blogged under the name Kuchhit Hasher Chhana (Ugly Duckling), had written a series of satirical notes on Facebook titled "Let us give a jaw-breaking reply to the insulting comments of atheists about Islam." The last note, published on December 30, is still getting positive and negative comments from readers.
Pointing to some of the negative comments on the notes, blogger Didarul Bhuiyan, who knew Rahman personally, confirmed that he had been threatened numerous times. "He was an atheist and may have written controversial items. But that does not justify his murder," Bhuiyan told VICE News, adding: "Bloggers and independent writers are the most targeted in Bangladesh right now for their writing."
Rahman is the third blogger to be murdered in the country in just over two years. On February 26, Roy and his wife were killed in a machete attack at a literary fair on the Dhaka University campus. In February 2013, another atheist blogger, Rajib Haider, was hacked to death.
In the Haider case, the police arrested members of the extremist group Ansarullah Bangla, a group ideologically inspired by Anwar al Awlaki, the late Yemeni al Qaeda leader, and said by Bangladeshi authorities to be linked to the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami opposition party.
There have been a number of similar assaults in which the victims survived, including another in January 2013 on prominent writer Asif Mohiuddin, which was also blamed on Ansarullah Bangla.
Police initially pointed to the involvement of Ansarullah Bangla in Roy's murder, though prime suspect Farabi Shafiur Rahman, an Islamist blogger arrested a few days later, is not thought to be linked to the extremist group.
Amnesty International said the latest killing must be a "wake-up call" for the Bangladeshi authorities.
"The despicable murder of Avijit Roy last month should have led authorities to step up protection measures for bloggers and others at risk. The killing of Washiqur Rahman today is another clear example of the Bangladeshi government's utter failure to ensure the safety of those at risk. How many more bloggers will have to be attacked before action is taken?" said Abbas Faiz, Bangladesh researcher at Amnesty International.
He said there was a failure to prosecute in such cases even when investigations had been carried out, adding: "The message must be crystal clear: freedom of thought and expression are basic human rights which must be fully respected by all."
He said that attacks on secular writers were increasing amid a culture of impunity in Bangladesh, adding that bloggers were to hold demonstrations in Dhaka on Monday evening to protest Rahman's killing.
Author Swakrito Noman is still living in fear after threats poured in following the launch of his novel Kalkeuter shukh during the Ekushey book fair in February.
"The social and political novel highlights fundamentalism, the plight of Hindu minorities silently leaving the country and how a particular group of anti-liberation people are gaining strength in the country," Noman explained to VICE News.
The publication witnessed negative reactions from Islamic websites. "The publishing house Jagriti was threatened that their stall at the fair and their warehouse will be burned down. I was threatened. And even my address and cellphone numbers were made public on various websites and pages," said Noman.
Noman said he had filed a complaint about the threats with the police but was unaware if they had investigated.
He urged the Bangladeshi government to take actions against such attacks. "Writers are the conscience of the nation. These zealots think that by killing such intellectuals they can establish their rule," he explained.