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Bangladeshi militants get death penalty for killing Hindu priest

Rights activists and lawyers hail the verdict but warn against complacency after a spike in radicalism

Bangladeshi militants get death penalty for killing Hindu priest

A rickshaw passes a banner that reads 'We stand with the bereaved' in July 2016 in a Dhaka street near the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe, which was the site of a bloody siege that ended in the death of 20 people. (Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP)

A court in northern Bangladesh on March 15 sentenced to death four militants from a banned Islamist extremist outfit for hacking a Hindu cleric to death in 2016 during a period which saw the deadly rise of radicalism in the Muslim-majority country.

Judge Anup Kumar of the Speedy Trial Tribunal in Rajshahi district found Jahangir Hossain alias Rajib Gandhi, Rajibul Islam Molla alias Badal, Alamgir Hossain and Ramzan Ali from Jamaat-ul-Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) guilty of murdering Hindu priest Jogeshwar Roy, 50.

Roy, head of a temple in Debiganj in Panchagarh district, was hacked to death by armed assailants, while a devotee, Gopal Chandra Roy, was shot on Feb. 21, 2016.

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The judge acquitted three accused — Herej Ali, Khalilur Rahman and Mohammad Rana. Among the convicts, Rajibul Islam was sentenced in absentia.

Jahangir Hossain was one of the masterminds of a militant attack on Holey Artisan Bakery café in Dhaka on July 1, 2016, which saw 20 guests including 17 foreigners brutally murdered in what was the country’s worst terrorist attack.

Mohammad Abul Kalam, a lawyer and rights activist from Rajshahi, hailed the judgment but questioned whether only four were behind the killing of the priest.

“The verdict for a heinous crime like murdering a Hindu priest is another step toward rule of law as well as a judicial denunciation of extremism. Justice has been delivered but the state prosecutors need to look at how those three accused were acquitted and should appeal against their acquittal,” said Kalam, a Muslim.

Rana Dasgupta, a Hindu Supreme Court lawyer and secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, was cautiously optimistic about the outcome.

“The verdict is welcome but there is no reason to be complacent. We have brought militants to justice in many cases, but the question remains if we have prepared the ground adequately so that militancy can never emerge to destroy peace and harmony,” he said.

“We have seen several waves of militancy in the country, largely because we have not fully addressed and even neglected the social, economic and religious roots of militancy. Our failure again would mean we remain vulnerable to radicalism in the future.” 

Once known as a moderate Muslim-majority country, Bangladesh has seen a lethal rise in Islamist extremism in recent years.

Homegrown militants pledging allegiance to global terror outfits al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have murdered about 50 people including atheist writers, publishers, academics, gay activists, religious minorities and foreigners since 2013.

An Italian Catholic priest and a Protestant pastor narrowly survived assassination attempts and a Catholic grocer was hacked to death during this time.

In response, the government launched an anti-militancy crackdown that saw about 50 militants shot dead during raids and dozens of leaders and members of militant outfits were arrested and put on trial.

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