Two days after Rezaul Karim Siddique, a professor, was hacked to death in Bangladesh and within weeks of social activist Nazimuddin Samad being murdered, machete-wielding attackers have claimed two more lives: Xulhaz Mannan, a leading gay rights activist and editor of the country’s first LGBT magazine, Roopbaan, and his colleague Tanay Mojumdar. They join a lengthening list of so-called secular and atheist bloggers and activists killed brutally. The Bangladesh government insists that the Islamic State (IS) doesn’t exist in the country, even though the IS has claimed responsibility for some of the killings.
There was considerable public support for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League government when it embarked on the war crimes trials to bring to justice collaborators responsible for genocide in the 1971 liberation war. That popular support was extended to the crackdown on the Islamist allies of the opposition, especially when the latter took violently to the streets. However, the same administration that has increasingly used the crackdown to shrink the democratic space, has adopted a softer, helpless tone now towards extremists after failing to fulfil the state’s most fundamental duty towards citizens — of providing security. Hasina’s home minister, and even the PM herself, have made remarks tantamount to blaming the bloggers for their own deaths, presumably fearing the extremist constituency in the electorate.
These murders take place against a backdrop of increasing Islamist attacks on minorities, whether Shia or Ahmadi Muslims, Hindus or Christians. It’s imperative for the government to confront the full extent of the militancy and not view the unfolding carnage through the prism of politics and the political identity of the perpetrators. It should begin by providing security to the remaining bloggers on the Islamists’ widely circulated “list of 84”, four prominent bloggers of which were killed last year alone.