Masked men with machetes ambushed a secular blogger on Tuesday morning and hacked him to death on his way to work in Bangladesh. Although the victim’s name was reportedly on a list of targets compiled by Islamic extremists for assassination, police have not arrested anyone for his murder. Ananta Bijoy Das has become the third blogger within the last three months butchered in public for supporting science and reason over religious fundamentalism.
According to police, Das was headed to work at a bank in the city of Sylhet when four masked assailants attacked him on the street with machetes. Sylhet Metropolitan Police Commissioner Kamrul Ahsan told reporters, “They chased him down the street and first attacked his head with their machetes and then attacked him all over his body.”
After the attackers fled into the early morning crowds, Das was transported to a hospital where he was declared dead on arrival. Although Das worked for a bank, he also contributed to the blog Mukto Mona(Free Mind) and was the editor of a scientific magazine named Jukti (Reason). While mainly writing about science and evolution, Das had also been critical of religious fundamentalism and recent violence against secular thinkers.
On the evening of February 26, a Bangladeshi-born U.S. citizen and founder of Mukto Mona, Avijit Roy and his wife were returning home from a book fair in Dhaka when assailants with knives and machetes ambushed them. Roy was killed in the attack, while his wife suffered head injuries and lost her left thumb. Before his death, Roy had been criticizing religious intolerance on his blog.
On March 30, Washiqur Rahman Babu was hacked to death on a busy street in Dhaka. Two of the assailants, armed with meat cleavers, were caught near the scene. Before his death, he had been criticizing irrational religious beliefs online.
“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, spoke to the BBC about Das and Roy. “These last two have been part of a blog called Mukto Mona, which is about free thinking and is about explicitly taking on religious fundamentalism and particularly Islamic religious fundamentalism. Their names have been on lists of identified targets.”
Although Bangladesh is officially a secular country, over 90% of its population are Muslims. As Islamic extremists continue murdering and issuing death threats against anyone criticizing their religion, secular bloggers have accused the government of indifference due to the fact that no one has yet been convicted for committing the recent brutal attacks.
“We don’t know if police will protect us,” admitted Binoy Vadra, Das’ friend and fellow blogger.
“The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina must take urgent steps to ensure the security of critical bloggers in Bangladesh given this series of murders,” said Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Asia Program Research Associate Sumit Galhotra. “Authorities can show their commitment to curbing this violent trend by finding Ananta Bijoy Das’s killers and bringing them to justice.”