For the third time this year a secular blogger critical of Islam has been murdered on the streets of Bangladesh. Four masked men attacked Ananta Bijoy Das as he left his home on Tuesday morning to work at a bank, hacking him to death on a busy street.
“They chased him down the street and first attacked his head with their machetes and then attacked him all over his body,” Sylhet Metropolitan Police Commissioner Kamrul Ahsan told Agence France Presse. The attackers escaped through crowds and Das was declared dead on arrival at the hospital he was taken to for emergency treatment.
Although Commissioner Ahsan did not speculate as to the attackers’ motives, the Guardian reports fellow writers saying that Das was on a hit list drawn up by militants responsible for the February killing of Avijit Roy, a Bangladesh-born US citizen who founded the religion critical blog Mukto-Mona [Free Mind]. Roy was on a rickshaw in Dhaka returning from a book fair with his wife when two assailants dragged them off and attacked with machetes. His wife sustained head injuries and lost a thumb. An Islamist has been arrested in connection with the murder for which al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent claimed responsibility.
A third atheist blogger, Washiqur Rahman, was stabbed to death 500 yards from his home in Dhaka in March. On that occasion two madrassa students were arrested at the scene of the crime while attempting to flee.
Having gained independence from Pakistan in 1971 Bangladesh became the first South Asian country to proclaim secularism constitutionally in 1972. Today more than 90% of its 160 million population are Muslims and in recent years the country has seen a rise in religious violence as Islamists and secularists become increasingly polarised. The country’s largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, was banned from standing in elections in 2013. The party, seen by some as similar to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, has been accused of firebomb attacks in support of efforts to topple the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.