Silencing free thinking and progressive conscience

12 Mar 2015


On February 26, assailants killed Avijit Roy (42) and severely wounded his wife Rafida Ahmed on Dhaka University campus when the couple came out from Ekushey Boi Mela (book fair).

Attackers hit Avijit Roy, a Bangladesh-born US citizen, with machetes from behind making holes in his head. They also attacked his wife as she tried to save him. Avijit succumbed to injuries in Dhaka Medical College and Hospital while his wife, who lost a finger and received head injuries, was also taken to the hospital, but left for the US after initial treatment.


Avijit Roy, son of Ajay Roy who taught Physics at Dhaka University, used to work as a software engineer in the US. He had come to Dhaka on February 16 to attend the book fair where three of his books have been published this year. He was to fly back to the US on March 4.


Engineer by profession, Avijit gained name and fame for his secular and progressive outlook as well as passionate and powerful writings. He was the founder of Bengali language blog ‘Mukto Mona’ (Free Thinking). Since 2000 Mukto Mona has been serving as a platform for independent thinkers, rationalists and sceptics in South Asia. As a defender of ‘free thought movement’ in Bangladesh he was an advocate of liberal secular writing, scientific reasoning, human rights and particular sensitive social issues. He was an adversary of Jihadism and also of religious zealots.


Avijit is well known for his books ‘Biswaser Virus (Virus of Faith) and ‘Sunno Theke Mahabishwa’ (From vacuum to the universe). He likened religious extremism to a highly contagious virus describing it as a virus of faith.


Last year, an online book store was forced to remove Avijit’s books from its list following threats by Shafiur Rahman Farabi, a fundamentalist blogger and former activist of Jamaat student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir. Farabi, a key suspect of the murder, was arrested for his suspected links with the murder. He confessed that he had threatened to kill Avijit in his Facebook and Twitter postings.


For more than a year, religious fanatics have been threatening to kill Avijit for the humanist and progressive views expressed by him in his writings. Growing religious intolerance poses a great threat to freedom of expressions in Bangladesh.


The attack on Avijit resembles the one on noted writer Prof Humayun Azad of Dhaka University and bloggers Razib Hyder and Asif Mahiuddin. Prof Humayun Azad was found dead in Munich in 2004 after he survived an assassination attempt by religious fanatics in Bangladesh. In 2013, Ahmed Razib Hyder, a Shahbag activist known for raising voice against religious fundamentalism was lynched to death. Asif Mahiuddin, another victim of the religious fanatics, was severely wounded as he took part in the Shahbag movement demanding capital punishment for leading Islamists for crimes committed by them during the liberation war.


Shibli Noman, Assistant Commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police said the attack on Avijit bore hallmarks of those usually carried out by Jamaat-Shibir men. Meanwhile, a twitter account named ‘Ansar Bangla’ posted a bloodied photograph of Avijit and his wife and claimed responsibility for the attack.


Ansar Bangla, known as Ansarullah Bangla Team, is an extremely militant group that recently made its presence felt in Bangladesh by assassinating Shahbag activist Ahmed Razib Hyder on February 15, 2013. Most activists of this group have Jamaat-Shibir links. Salman Yaseer Mahmud who masterminded the murder was earlier an activist of Islami Chhatra Shibir.


Ansarullah Bangla Team was modeled on Iraqi al Qaeda group Ansar-ul-Islam.
Militants belonging to pro-al Qaeda groups in Bangladesh such as Jamiatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Harkat-ul-jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) are now operating under different banners after being banned and many of them have joined Ansarullah Bangla Team at the instigation of Jamaat-Shibir.


Avijit’s body was placed at Aparajeyo Bangla in front of the Faculty of Arts building at Dhaka University on March 1 where people from all walks of life gathered in thousands to pay homage to the writer. As per his wish his body was handed over by his father to Dhaka Medical College for medical research. The government has decided to take help from FBI to investigate the murder. The decision was taken following an offer by the US.

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