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Blogged and flogged: Lethal tussle between fundamentalism and free expression in Bangladesh

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By Ridham Gambhir

Free speech is strangled when fanaticism provokes men to kill other men for their creed and outlook. Here is a look at the brutality suffered by four secular bloggers of Dhaka.

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Niloy Chakrabarty

Niloy Chakrabarty, a secular blogger in Bangladesh was hacked to death with machetes after a gang of men forced themselves into his apartment and killed him while shouting Allahu Akbar (God is greatest). This murder is the fourth of its kind.

Known by the pen name Niloy Neel, the latter wrote posts condemning the killings of the 3 bloggers in Bangladesh. He also wrote against communalism and advocated for rights of the minority community and women.

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Avijit Roy and his wife

A prominent advocate of free expression, Avijit Roy, was murdered by machete-wielding assailants in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 26 February 2015. He and his wife were returning from a fair when they were attacked by unidentified assailants. Roy founded Mukto-Mona, an Internet community for freethinkers, skeptics, nationalists and humanists. Roy described his writing as “taboo” in Bangladesh. He had received death threats from fundamentalist bloggers for his political articles. Rokomari.com, a Bangladeshi e-commerce site, stopped selling Roy’s books after its owner received death threats from Islamists. In an interview with BBC Newshour, Roy’s wife said that police stood nearby when they were attacked on the spot but did not act.

Roy on the founding mission of Mukto-Mona-

“Our aim is to build a society which will not be bound by the dictates of arbitrary authority, comfortable superstition, stifling tradition, or suffocating orthodoxy but would rather be based on reason, compassion, humanity, equality and science”.

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Ananta Bijoy Das

Bangladeshi blogger Ananta Bijoy Das was killed in an attack by four men wielding machetes in May 2015 in Sylhet. Das wrote blogs for Mukto-Mona, a website once moderated by Avijit Roy. The former was killed in broad daylight, when he was leaving his place to head for work.

Das was also a member of Gonojagoron Moncho, a political movement calling for the execution of war criminals and opposing Islamist political parties. His work focused on science and evolution, but he also criticized some aspects of Islam and Hinduism. After his death, local Gonojagoron activists organised a protest rally, demanding immediate arrest of the killers.

Blogger Washiqur Rahman Babu was ambushed by three men, out of which two were students. In their confession, the latter told police that they didn’t know what a blog was or what Rahamn wrote. They were following somebody else’s order and Rahamn’s murder was a “religious duty”.

On social media, Rahman reposted a cartoon depicting Prophet Mohammed from the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. He wished a happy birthday to author Taslima Nasreen, who was forced to flee Bangladesh due to death threats from fundamentalists. And he “liked” a picture of sausages wrapped in crescent rolls that someone had captioned, “Pigs in burqas”. Shortly after this, the blogger received threats and was later slaughtered like an animal.

What crime had these four men committed? Their crime was that they wrote with audacity and blew the clarion of their critical perspective on fundamentalism. These four bloggers wrote and got machetes at their neck that too in a country that has a long tradition of official secularism — the principle was enshrined in the 1971 Bangladesh Constitution.

Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh, an Al- Qaeda-affiliated group, has claimed responsibility for the killing and threatens to follow its ‘hit list‘ which include other secularists.

It is ironical how these four men were writing against religious extremism and communalism and their assailants proved the same by practicing it in broad daylight. Brad Thor, an award-winning writer believed that the freedom of speech includes the freedom to offend people. These four people evinced their secularity and skepticism even in their deaths.

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Bangladeshi social activists shout slogans during a protest against the killing of US blogger Avijit Roy.

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