A machete-wielding gang brutally killed a popular blogger in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, making him the fourth secular blogger to have been killed by suspected Islamist militants in Bangladesh this year.
The attackers murdered Niloy Chakrabarti, who wrote under the pen name Niloy Neel, in his home in the city’s Goran area, BBC reports.
Asif Mohiuddin, another blogger who survived an attack by militants in 2013, described Mr. Chakrabarti as an atheist “free thinker” who was “critical against religions and wrote against Islamist, Hindu, and Buddhist fundamentalism.”
Chakrabarti also spoke out in defense of minorities’ rights and was a founding member of a “rationalist organization,” according to AFP.
Six attackers tricked their way into Chakrabarti’s home by saying they were looking to rent an apartment before two of them took him into a separate room and murdered him. His wife was home but had been confined in another room, BBC reports.
Chakrabarti had already been afraid of a looming threat. In May, he told The Guardian that he had filed police reports saying he was being harassed and was afraid that he would be killed, but claimed authorities didn’t take his reports seriously.
The country has already seen three similar cases this year. In February, Bangladeshi-born US citizen Avijit Roy, who openly discussed contentious issues such as atheism and homosexuality, was also murdered in Dhaka. A month later, blogger Washiqur Rahman, suffered the same fate, BBC reports.
In May, masked men with machetes killed secular blogger Ananta Das in the city of Sylhet, after he had reportedly received death threats from Islamist extremists. Police have so far arrested two suspects linked to these killings, but have not yet made any charges.
Though Bangladesh is officially secular, challenging religious ideologies and traditional views has become a high risk. Muslims make up over 90 percent of the country’s population of nearly 160 million, yet all four murdered bloggers were atheist or secular, and two of them had Hindu as opposed to Muslim backgrounds.
The four men murdered were on a widely circulated list of 84 "atheist bloggers" compiled by Islamic groups in 2013, which activist groups fear contain the bloggers’ full names and addresses. According to AFP, most secular bloggers have been living in fear and have either gone into hiding, often writing under pseudonyms, or have fled abroad.
Bangladeshi authorities have repeatedly been criticized for not acting in defense of free speech, yet the government banned the Ansarullah Bangla Team an Islamist group, after Mr. Das’s murder in May. Police suspect the group may be behind the other three attacks, as some members of the group have already been charged with murdering a blogger in 2013, reports The Guardian.
Following Das’s killing, over 150 writers, including Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood, published an open letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government, urging her "to do all in their power to ensure that the tragic events of the last three months are not repeated, and to bring the perpetrators to justice."
"We are gravely concerned by this escalating pattern of violence against writers and journalists who are peacefully expressing their views,” the letter said.