Activists and students demand justice for Avijit Roy in February 2015 after he was murdered by Islamic militants in Dhaka. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)
A court in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka has sentenced to death five members of a banned Islamic extremist group for murdering a Bangladesh-born US citizen writer for his books and writings on secularism and atheism.
Judge Md Majibur Rahman of the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal passed the death sentence on Feb. 16 for the killing of Avijit Roy, a prominent writer and founder of free-thinking blog site Muktomona, in 2015. Two militants were sentenced in absentia.
Roy, 42, was hacked to death on Feb. 16, 2015, with machetes by members of Ansar al-Islam, a homegrown extremist outfit. He and his wife came under attack as they were returning home from the annual Ekushey Book Fair near Dhaka University. Roy’s wife Rafida Ahmed Bonya sustained severe injuries to her head and lost a finger as she tried to save him.
Judge Rahman observed in the verdict that Ansar al-Islam members committed the heinous crime because the author wanted to write and express himself.
In a statement on her verified Facebook page, Roy’s widow said the court judgment was not satisfying.
“Simply prosecuting a few foot-soldiers — and ignoring the rise and roots of extremism — does not mean justice for Avi’s death, nor for the deaths of the ‘bloggers, publishers and homosexuals’ before and after him as part of the serial killing. That’s why this verdict will not bring peace to my family or theirs,” Bonya said
She also noted that Bangladesh’s government has become more autocratic since she and her husband were attacked.
Freedom of speech has been restricted further, secular writers, bloggers and activists were forced to leave the country, a harsher Digital Security Act has been enacted, and writers, bloggers and publishers have been persecuted for their writings on a regular basis, she said.
Bonya said Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is increasingly friendly with Hefazat-e-Islam, the Islamist group of madrasa teachers and students that “demanded the heads” of secular writers and bloggers in 2014.
Roy’s brother Anujit Roy expressed satisfaction with the court’s verdict and demanded a quick execution for the killers.
“The government should continue their efforts to arrest the two masterminds — sacked army major Zia and Akram Hossain. I’m personally satisfied with this judgment but we need quick executions and the arrest of the masterminds,” Anujit told UCA News.
Lengthy and delayed probes and justice are the reasons behind a series of murders of secular writers and bloggers in Bangladesh, said Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission.
“The first blogger killed by extremists was in 2013. If the probe and judgment was quick, I believe it could stop other murders,” Father Gomes told UCA News.
“The death penalty is not a solution. It could make militants crazy and the result might be even worse. The rule of law needs to be further consolidated and militants need to be brought back from that path of fundamentalism with positive motivations.”
At least 10 atheist bloggers, writers, publishers, liberal academics and gay activists have been murdered by militants in Bangladesh since 2013.
In response, the government has launched a crackdown that has resulted in dozens of militants being killed in shootouts and hundreds arrested and facing trial.