A Bangladeshi blogger who wrote for a website that promoted secularism was hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants on Tuesday, the third fatal attack against a blogger in the South Asian nation this year.
Police told The Associated Press that Ananta Bijoy Das died instantly after being attacked by at least four masked men while he on his way to work in the northeastern city of Sylhet.
The AP reports that it was not immediately clear why Mr. Das was targeted. Local media reported that he was close to Avijit Roy, a prominent Bangladeshi-American blogger and author who was killed at a book fair in February, allegedly by Islamist extremists.
Police mentioned to Al Jazeera that Das had written about science and the evolution of the Soviet Union. He was also a blogger for Mukto-Mona, or “free mind,” a site launched by Mr. Roy.
"They've always believed and written very vocally in support of free expression and they've very explicitly written about not following any religion themselves," Sara Hossain, a lawyer and human rights activist in Dhaka, Bangladesh, told the BBC.
“Mukto-Mona … is about free thinking and is about explicitly taking on religious fundamentalism and particularly Islamic religious fundamentalism.”
Following Roy’s brutal death in February, The Christian Science Monitor’s Dan Murphy wrote that attacks on free expression are all too common in countries such as Bangladesh:
The awful terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo [in January] led to an outpouring of support for free expression on the Internet and across the West. But a murder in Bangladesh [on Feb. 27] was a reminder of what an outlier the Hebdo attack was for Europe, and how common attacks on free expression are in other parts of the world.
In fact death threats against secular writers and critics of Islam are on the rise in Bangladesh. With a population that’s 90 percent Muslim, religious conservatism has emerged as a response to political turmoil. As The Washington Post reports:
The country has a long tradition of official secularism – the principle was enshrined in the 1971 constitution (though that section was nullified between 1979 and 2010). But in periods of conflict, it also has a tradition of antagonism toward religion’s most radical critics.
Five weeks after Roy’s death, another blogger, Oyasiqur Rhaman, was killed by three men with machetes in Dhaka. All three bloggers were part of a movement known as Shahbag, The New York Times reports:
[Shahbag] called for the death penalty for Islamist political leaders who had been implicated in atrocities committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 war for independence from Pakistan. Young Islamic activists reacted with fury to the Shahbag movement, dividing young people on the question of whether Bangladesh should be a secular or Islamic state.
The recent killings have drawn international condemnation and led to massive protests from students and social activists, who accused Bangladeshi authorities of failing to protect critics of religious bigotry. The Times reports that police have so far arrested one person in Roy’s murder.