KOLKATA, INDIA —
The stabbing death of an atheist Bangladeshi blogger in Dhaka a month after the killing of a prominent Bangladeshi-American author highlights the growing threat facing critics of religious fundamentalism in the South Asian nation.
Three men attacked Washiqur Rahman Babu, 27, with meat cleavers in front of his house Monday in Dhaka.
Two people caught two of the assailants as they fled and handed them over to the police. Passersby rushed Babu to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, where he was declared dead.
Police, who said the two captured suspects are students at religious schools, are searching for the third attacker.
The two suspects told police that they had not read exactly what Babu had written against Islam, but that they had attacked him because their religious teacher had told them that he was anti-Islam in his writing.
The online news portal "Bangladesh Pratidin" quoted police officials as saying the suspects said it was their responsibility as Muslim believers to kill him.
Police believe Babu, who worked with a travel agency in Dhaka as an information technology trainer, was killed because of his Facebook posts.
Babu was a member of at least eight Facebook groups, including "Atheist Bangladesh," "Banglar Charlie" ("Charlie Hebdo of Bangladesh" in Bangla) and the online discussion site "Logical Forum."
Imran H. Sarker, who leads the Blogger and Online Activist Network in Bangladesh, said Babu was a secular and progressive free thinker who criticized extremist and irrational beliefs in his writing.
Now, he says, people like Babu are the targets of many religious militants.
"By increasing killer attacks on the bloggers and other free thinkers, they have launched a war against secular forces and are promoting political Islam with an aim to turn Bangladesh into a theocratic state," Sarker told VOA. "It is indeed worrying the way militant Islamist groups are growing in our country day by day.
"They know the government will not bother to address the issue of the attacks on the secular bloggers and writers," he added. "So, the militants have been out to kill the defenseless community with impunity. They want to create fear among the bloggers. They are aiming to frighten them into silence."
The attack on Babu comes as Bangladesh has been reeling through a political stalemate. The leading opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party continues its nationwide transportation blockade, demanding immediate national elections. The government rejects the demand.
The standoff that began in January has fueled political violence leading to more than 100 deaths, with a sense of insecurity growing across the country.
After the murders of some bloggers and authors in Bangladesh, some Islamists said in social media they had been "punished" because they had "humiliated and ridiculed" Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
'Words cannot be killed'
On February 26, the day Bangladeshi-American atheist blogger and author Avijit Roy was hacked to death in Dhaka, Babu paid tribute to him by taking the hashtag “#IamAvijit” as his Facebook profile picture with a slogan “words cannot be killed” on it.
In a part of his Facebook posting after Roy’s killing, Babu wrote that Islam should be "destroyed."
"Killing of one Avijit Roy will lead to the birth of 100,000 Avijit Roys," Babu wrote. "We will not stop writing until your blind faith is dead."
Using the name Bismay Balak (Amazing Boy), one writer responded with a warning, "You will be killed."
Mohammad Zim Nawaz, a follower of Bangladeshi blogs, said he believes Babu’s display of solidarity with Roy and call for destruction of Islam last month might have led to Monday’s fatal attack.
It "might have led some crazy Islamists [to] engineer his murder. But, you can never kill someone just because his view hurts you," said India-based Nawaz, who professes to be religious. "Sadly, in Bangladesh some fanatics are misinterpreting the tenets of Islam and resorting to activities which are simply un-Islamic."
Call for justice
Abbas Faiz, a Bangladesh researcher at Amnesty International, said the attacks on bloggers will not stop unless authorities convince perpetrators that they will be caught and punished. No one as yet has been arrested for Roy's murder.
"The lack of prosecutions on these types of cases, even after investigations are carried out, sends a message that these barbaric actions are tolerated," Faiz said.
"The despicable murder of Avijit Roy last month should have led authorities to step up protection measures for bloggers and others at risk," he said. "The killing of Washiqur Rahman … is another clear example of the Bangladeshi government’s utter failure to ensure the safety of those at risk.
"How many more bloggers will have to be attacked before action is taken?"