5 Sentenced to Die for Killing Secular Bangladesh-American Blogger Avijit Roy — BenarNews

A tribunal in Bangladesh on Tuesday sentenced to death five men of an al-Qaeda-linked militant group who were found guilty of killing Bangladesh-American blogger and author Avijit Roy in 2015, in one of a string of gruesome murders of secular intellectuals in the South Asian country.

A sixth convict was sentenced to life in prison for issuing a death threat to Roy –  for his writings against religious extremism and for allegedly defaming Islam  –  and provoking the machete killing that took place six years ago.

Roy’s wife Rafida Ahmed Bonya, who currently lives in the U.S., said the verdict did not provide closure for her or her family, and that the roots of the extremism that led to the killings of intellectuals need to be investigated.

Anti-terrorism tribunal judge Mojibur Rahman, who last Wednesday sentenced to death eight convicts for the murder of the blogger-author’s publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan on Oct. 31, 2015, said Roy’s murder was premeditated and was intended to discourage free speech. 

“It was a premeditated murder. The banned outfit Ansar al-Islam’s members, including the accused persons, killed Avijit Roy, and branded him an atheist,” Rahman said in a statement before the verdict, referring to the al-Qaeda-linked militant group that has been held responsible by the authorities for planning the killings of secular bloggers, writers, publishers, gay rights activists and others in the last decade.

“Avijit Roy paid the price with his life for independent writing and freedom of expression. The motive for killing Avijit Roy was to discourage and curtail freedom of speech by disrupting public security,” said the judge.

“These accused persons do not deserve mercy.”

Rahman delivered his guilty verdict and sentence in a packed court room amid tight police protection.

Four of the six defendants were present, wearing bulletproof vests and helmets.

They were Abu Siddique Sohel, Mozammel Hussain, Arafat Hossain, and Shafiur Rahman Farabi, public prosecutor Syed Golam Sarwar Zakir told BenarNews.

Farabi, an extremist blogger, was sentenced to life in prison for issuing a death threat to Roy on Facebook, but he did not participate directly in the killing, said the prosecutor.

Two other convicts – Akram Hossain and former major Syed Ziaul Haque, the alleged chief of Ansar al-Islam – were said to be on the run.  Ansar al-Islam was banned by the Bangladesh government in May 2015.

Hossain directly took part in hacking Roy to death, while Ziaul Haque planned the murder, the prosecutor said.

The court ordered the police to find and arrest the two, although investigators told BenarNews in 2019 that they are not sure whether the notorious “Major Zia” – blamed for multiple terror attacks in the country – is still alive.

Of the men convicted on Tuesday, Ziaul Haque, Akram Hossain, Abu Siddique Sohel and Mozammel Hussain were convicted and sentenced to death last Wednesday as well, for killing Roy’s publisher Dipan.

Khairul Islam Liton, a defense counsel, told BenarNews his team was “aggrieved” by Tuesday’s verdict and would appeal against it in the High Court.

“The investigation officer has not been able to produce any witnesses. At the same time, the prosecution has also failed to prove that the convicted persons belonged to the banned militant outfit Ansar al-Islam,” Liton told BenarNews.

Liton, who was defense counsel for the convicts in Dipan’s case, had also said he planned to appeal that verdict.

According to Bangladesh law, convicts have the right to appeal at the High Court, and then the Supreme Court.  If both appeals are rejected, and the president declines to pardon them, the convicts will be executed.

‘Verdict will not bring peace to my family’

Roy lived in the United States with his wife Bonya. He came to Bangladesh to attend Dhaka’s annual Ekushey Book Fair that started on Feb. 1, 2015, despite repeated online death threats against him.

On the evening of Feb. 26, 2015, Roy and Bonya attended a literary discussion at the book fair being held at Dhaka University.

As they left the fair after the event around 9:30 p.m., they were attacked by men with machetes. Roy was hacked to death and Bonya survived the attack but was seriously injured.

Bonya said she never expected that the verdict will provide closure for her.

“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 killings,” Bonya said in a statement.

“That’s why this verdict will not bring peace to my family or theirs.”

Bonya claimed that the Bangladesh government and the prosecution did not contact her through the years of investigation into the attack on her and her husband.

“In six years, not one person investigating the case in Bangladesh reached out to me – though I am a direct witness and victim of the attack,” she said.

 “In January, the state lawyer in the case publicly lied, saying that I did not agree to be a witness in the trial. The truth is, no one from Bangladesh’s government or the prosecution has ever contacted me.”

Public prosecutor Zakir said the prosecution did send letters to Bonya.

“We sent letters to Bonya’s address mentioned in the charge sheet. But she did not appear,” Zakir told BenarNews.

Bonya also alleged that the Bangladesh government had become more autocratic since she and her husband were attacked.

“Freedom of speech has been restricted further, secular writers, bloggers, activists were forced to leave the country during and after 2015, a harsher Digital Security Act has been enacted, bloggers, writers, publishers have been persecuted for their writings on a regular basis,” she said in her statement.

“Bangladesh’s Prime Minister is increasingly friendly with Hefazat-e-Islam, the Islamist group of madrassa teachers and students that demanded ‘the heads’ of secular writers and bloggers in 2014.”

Bonya was referring to Bangladesh’s most powerful faith-based hardline organization, which in May 2013 organized a massive rally in Dhaka demanding the introduction of Sharia law, including a blasphemy law with a proviso to execute secular bloggers and those who defame Islam.

The rally followed the brutal slaying in February 2013 of secular blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government courted Hefazat’s support before the 2018 general elections, which she eventually won.

She announced in 2017 that her government would recognize degrees from thousands of unregulated Qwami madrassas – Islamic boarding schools. She also agreed to changes in public school textbooks to make them more “Muslim-friendly,” as demanded by Hefazat.

Since the death of Hefazat’s leader last September, two sections – a pro- and an anti-government one – have vied to dominate the organization.

Hasina’s party, the Awami League, hoped at the time that Hefazat’s future leaders will remember that the Hasina government recognized degrees from Qwami madrassas, Shajahan Khan, a member of the party’s Central Working Committee told BenarNews.

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Courtesy: BenarNews.Org

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