Ananta Bijoy Das, 32, was killed Tuesday morning as he left his home
Das' death was at least the third this year of a blogger
Attacks on bloggers critical of Islam have taken on a disturbing regularity in Bangladesh, with yet another writer hacked to death Tuesday.
Ananta Bijoy Das, 32, was killed Tuesday morning as he left his home on his way to work at a bank, police in the northeastern Bangladeshi city of Sylhet said.
Four masked men attacked him, hacking him to death with cleavers and machetes, said Sylhet Metropolitan Police Commissioner Kamrul Ahsan.
The men then ran away. Because of the time of the morning when the attack happened, there were few witnesses. But police say they are following up on interviewing the few people who saw the incident.
“It’s one after another after another,” said Imran Sarker, who heads the Blogger and Online Activists Network in Bangladesh. “It’s the same scenario again and again. It’s very troubling.”
Das’ death was at least the third this year of someone who’d posted pieces online critical of Islam. In each case, the attacks were carried out publicly on city streets.
In March, Washiqur Rahman, 27, was hacked to death by two men with knives and meat cleavers just outside his house as he headed to work at a travel agency in the capital, Dhaka.
In February, a Bangladesh-born American blogger, Avijit Roy, was similarly killed with machetes and knives as he walked back from a book fair in Dhaka.
The three victims are hardly the only ones who have paid a steep price for their views.
In the last two years, several bloggers have died, either murdered or under mysterious circumstances.
In 2014, Reporters Without Borders reported that a group calling itself Defenders of Islam in Bangladesh had published a “hit list” of writers it saw as opposing Islam.
“They listed 84 bloggers, mostly secularists. They listed 84 of them,” said blogger Asif Mohiuddin, whose name was on the list. “Nine of them are already killed and many of the were attacked.”
Das was an atheist who contributed to Mukto Mona (“Free Thinkers”), the blog that Roy founded.
Mukto Mona contains sections titled “Science” and “Rationalism,” and most of the articles hold science up to religion as a litmus test, which it invariably fails.
While Das was critical of fundamentalism, in Islam and other religions, and of the attacks on secular thinkers, he was mostly concerned with championing science.
He was the editor of a local science magazine, Jukti (“Reason”), and wrote several books, including one work on Charles Darwin.
In 2006, the blog awarded Das its Rationalist Award for his “deep and courageous interest in spreading secular & humanist ideals and messages in a place which is not only remote, but doesn’t have even a handful of rationalists.”
“He was a voice of social resistance; he was an activist,” said Sarker. “And now, he too has been silenced.”
Taking to the streets
Soon after Das’ death, his Facebook wall was flooded with messages of shock and condolence. And hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Sylhet demanding that the government bring his killers to justice.
“We’ve heard from Ananta’s friends that some people threatened to kill him as he was critical of religion,” Das’ brother-in-law Somor Bijoy Shee Shekhor said.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We are ashamed, brother Bijoy,” someone posted on Das’ Facebook page.
“Is a human life worth so little? Do we not have the right to live without fear?” wrote another.
Police are investigating all three recent deaths, but few believe the real culprits will be brought to justice.
“One of the reasons it’s come to this stage because a) they know they can get away with it. Anyone can get away with anything at this point,” said Shahidul Alam, another blogger. “There is no such thing as the rule of law. And despite these attacks, the government has taken no serious attempt to bring perpetrators to justice or investigate what’s happened.”
Bangladesh has an ever-dwindling number of outspoken voices. Deaths like Das’ only helps to silence the remaining few.
Journalist Farid Ahmed contributed to this report from Dhaka, Bangladesh.