“Aamra shokahoto. Kintu Aamra Aparajito (We are mourning, but we are undefeated).” These few words, written against a black background, on the homepage of Mukta-mona.com on Friday evening said it all. The popular blog’s founder, Avijit Roy, was hacked to death by suspected Islamic extremists on the streets of Dhaka Thursday night. His wife Rafida Ahmed Banna was injured seriously in the attack, her fingers were severed.
Roy, a US citizen of Bangladeshi origin, was in Dhaka for the launch of two of his latest books at a book fair. His friends said he was expected to leave for Kolkata on Friday.
Around 9 pm on Thursday, Roy and Rafida were returning from the book fair when they were attacked by a group wielding sharp weapons. Roy died around 10.30 pm as he was being taken to a government hospital. Doctors said there were three deep gashes on Roy’s head, caused possibly by a machete.
Ansar Bangla 7, a Twitter account believed to be operated by Islamic extremists, tweeted that the “anti-Islamic” blogger was assassinated due to his “crime against Islam”.
An atheist, Roy wrote blogs like the recent “Does the Quran have any scientific miracles”. He had authored 10 books, including the famous Bishwasher Virus (Virus of Faith), which took on religious extremism. His website was down the entire day, before it was up again in the evening.
Roy’s last Facebook post at 5.13 pm on Thursday. Titled “Why there is something rather than nothing”, it was a deeply philosophical essay flowing from his atheist beliefs. Till Friday evening, it had been liked by 1,410 people and shared by 114. His Twitter account described him as a Bangladeshi blogger, author and prominent defender of the free-thought movement in Bangladesh.
The killing of 42-year-old Roy, an engineer by profession whose blogs and books supported a secular Bangladesh, sparked spontaneous outrage in the country on Friday. Authors, bloggers and activists staged protests in Shahbag, near Dhaka University, demanding the arrest of the killers.
Shahriar Kabir, writer, blogger and activist, told The Indian Express from Dhaka over the telephone, “The blog has been on the hit list of extremists for quite some time now. There were threat messages on Facebook. His father, Ajoy, who is also an activist and a professor in Dhaka university, had asked him to keep a low profile. But Avijit was not afraid. And he met the fate of Prof Humayun Azad in 2004 and blogger Rajib Haider in 2013.”
Both Azad and Haider were killed in a similar manner by Islamic extremists. Their killers are yet to be punished.
Imran H Sarkar, a blogger and activist who leads a coalition of secular bloggers in the country under the name of Gonojagron Manch, told The Indian Express, “Avijit Roy was an influential blogger. This is pre-meditated killing and targeting of progressive activists and bloggers by terrorists and those with Taliban-type mindset. This cannot be tolerated in any civilised society.” According to him, in the past two years, Bangladesh has witnessed killing of about 20 activists and writers of secular thought.
Ramendu Majumdar, a leading cultural activist from Bangladesh and honorary president of International Theatre Institute, said, “This incident is once again a reminder of the forces that are out to muzzle the voices of secular thought. Since he was in Bangladesh only for the past few days, it is certain that he was followed and tracked by those terrorist elements.”
Kabir said, “We have to defeat the politics of extremism. No amount of police protection can protect the writers. We have to fight the Jamaat’s ideology of converting a secular Bangladesh to a monolithic, Islamic country.”
Sarkar, who also faces threats, said, “We are mentally prepared to shed our blood if that is the price we have to pay to keep this country secular and free from radical extremists.”
According to local media reports, Islamist blogger Farabi Shafiur Rahman had allegedly threatened Roy with death once he returned home. Farabi has also been demanding that Rokomari.com, an online shopping portal, stop selling Roy’s books. Police had arrested Farabi in connection with Haider’s murder but he later got bail.
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