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Attacks on publishers trigger protests in Bangladesh

Latest assault on secularists after murders of atheist bloggers

Attacks on publishers trigger protests in Bangladesh

Activists protest attacks on Bangladeshi publishers and writers in Dhaka on Nov. 1. (Photo by Stephan Uttom)

Hundreds of teachers, students and secularists rallied in Dhaka after gruesome attacks on several publishers and writers left one dead and three others seriously injured.

The Oct. 31 attacks were the latest assault on secularists in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. Four atheist bloggers have been murdered this year alone.

The protesters rallied in the Bangladeshi capital Nov. 1 calling for a half-day shutdown. They criticized the government for failing to halt a rising tide of violence against secularists. In addition, members of the Bangladesh Book Publishers and Sellers Association refrained from selling books Nov. 2, also in protest of the attacks.

On Oct. 31, relatives and friends found the body of Faisal Arefin Dipan*, 43, owner of Jagriti Prokashony, a Dhaka-based publishing house. His body was lying in a pool of blood with multiple stab wounds, police said.

Hours before the murder, attackers stabbed and critically wounded Ahmedur Rashid Tutul, 43, the owner of Suddhaswar, another publishing house, as well as two writers. All three were undergoing treatment at a local hospital.

Imran H. Sarkar, spokesman for Gonojagoron Mancha, or the Public Uprising Forum, a coalition of secular activists, criticized the ruling Awami League government for failing to protect people from the attacks.

"We have voted Awami League to power to save the nation from militancy, but it has failed to protect us," Sarkar said.

Dipan and Tutul had both printed books by Avjit Roy, a Bangladeshi atheist blogger and science writer who was hacked to death on the streets of Dhaka in February. Tutul’s publishing house also printed books about homosexuality and he had earlier received death threats related to his books.

Ansar-Al-Islam, a local militant group allegedly affiliated with Al-Qaeda on the Indian subcontinent, claimed responsibility for the latest attacks, according to the U.S.-based SITE intelligence group, which monitors jihadist activity and propaganda.

Police say they are still investigating militant links to the attacks.

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Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi, president of the Catholic Bishops' social communication commission, called the government's failure to protect blogger and writers unacceptable.

"We are shocked and surprised with the repeated brutal attacks on bloggers and writers, which the government should have stopped," the bishop said. "It is not an easy task, but the government needs to be vigilant and strive hard against attackers."

 

Since 2013, six secular writers have been attacked for their work, including four this year. Five of them were killed and only one narrowly escaped death.

For years, Bangladesh has struggled to tackle Islamic militancy and a group of homegrown militant outfits, some of them allegedly linked to Islamist political parties.

In recent weeks, unknown assailants shot and killed an Italian aid worker and a Japanese national.

* The name of Faisal Arefin Dipan has been corrected.

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