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Bangladesh religious leaders condemn slaying of atheist blogger

Authorities under fire over spate of deaths, allowing inflamatory articles on social media

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Bangladesh religious leaders condemn slaying of atheist blogger

People gather in Dhaka to pay tribute to slain blogger Niloy Neel on Aug 9. (Photo by Stephan Uttom)

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The killing of a fourth atheist blogger this year, allegedly by Islamic militants, has drawn condemnation from religious leaders in Bangladesh.

Niladri Chatterjee, 40, was hacked to death in his home in Dhaka on Friday.

Chatterjee, who used the pen name Niloy Neel, wrote blogs critical of religion and religious fundamentalism.

His slaying follows the murders of blogger Ananta Bijoy Das in May in Sylhet; US-based Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy in February and Washiqur Rahman in March, both in Dhaka.

A culture of impunity and the government’s failure to offer protection are behind the wave of attacks, Father Joyonta S Gomes, secretary of the Bangladesh Catholic Bishops’ Social Communication Commission said over the weekend.

“We are gravely concerned by the ongoing attacks and killings of bloggers in the country. These attacks hit on religious tolerance and freedom of expression,” he said.

“An atheist can be a better person than a religious person, but his/her writings should be respectful to religions, and they should not hurt religious sentiments of people,” he added.

Muslim leaders, too, condemned Chatterjee’s killing, but also spared some criticism for the government for allowing bloggers to post inflammatory material.

“Islam is a religion of peace, so no good Muslim can accept and support killing someone for opposing religious views, but hurting the religious sentiments of people is also condemnable,” said Mufti Ainul Islam, head imam of the Hizbul Bahar Jame mosque and madrassa in Dhaka.

Activists accused the government of not taking the attacks on bloggers seriously, thereby encouraging fanatics indirectly.

“Recently, a government minister and top police officials warned bloggers not to ‘cross a line’ which will surely encourage fanatics. They are, in other words, blaming bloggers for inciting attacks,” said Subroto Chowdhury, a Hindu leader and former president of Bangladesh National Puja Celebration Council.

“Religion is not a fickle matter that if someone criticizes a religion, the followers will disappear. The atheist bloggers criticize religious malpractices and fundamentalism, and they are right. Sadly, they are a minority group and the government is negligent about their protection,” Chowdhury added.

Meanwhile, police say they are still hunting for the killers.

“We are still looking for leads that will help identify the assailants,” said Mustafiz Bhuiyan, officer in-charge at Khilgaon police station in Dhaka.

He denied allegations that the slain blogger was turned away from a police station after trying to file a case days before the killing.

In a recent Facebook post, Chatterjee wrote that he was being followed and alleged that local police officials declined to file a complaint but instead advised him to leave the country for his own safety.

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