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Bangladesh: editorials and commentary following the killing of the blogger Avijit Roy

1 March 2015

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Dhaka Tribune, February 28, 2015

Bring Avijit’s killers to justice
Tribune Editorial
Reassure all citizens that there will be no tolerance of violent extremism

We trust the police will receive widespread public support in swiftly finding and bringing to justice the killers of Avijit Roy.

The brutal manner in which the writer and his wife were attacked in a highly public space at the TSC of Dhaka University on Thursday evening is chilling and despicable. We send our condolences and offer solidarity with their family and friends.

Our society must stand united against all types of violent attacks, whoever carries them out.

It is understood that three unidentified persons carried out the attack which killed Avijit and left Rafida Ahmed Bonna in a critical condition.

As the couple are known to have received threats from militant Islamists over the content of their writings and police note some similarity with the attack carried out on Professor Humayan Azad in the same area in February 2004, it seems incontrovertible the attacks were the work of such groups who had threatened time and time again to carry them out.

The government must act against those who issue death threats and incite others to kill. To do so is a crime, and often has deadly consequences.

The perpetrators must be found and held to account before the law. Upholding rule of law is the only way to ensure justice and reassure all citizens that there will be no tolerance of violent extremism.

The government must do more to take action against those who threaten or incite deadly violence. Waiting until after they have acted is too late.
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New Age (Bangladesh)


Avijit’s killers must be traced, prosecuted and punished

February 28, 2015

THE attack on Avijit Roy, a non-resident Bangladeshi academic, writer and blogger, and son of a retired Dhaka University professor, on the DU campus Thursday night, which led to his death in Dhaka Medical College Hospital about an hour and a half later, is reminiscent of the attack on Humayun Azad on the night of February 27, 2004 — for the uncanny similarities in manner, cause and context — although the late DU professor survived the attempts on his life with grievous injury and later died of heart attack in Germany. In fact, according to a report published in New Age on Friday, before the attack near the university’s Teacher-Student Centre, the late Avijit had received several threats that he would meet the fate of Professor Azad.
While we reserve any comment on the issues that his writing, in print and online, focused on, pending further scrutiny of his works, we may safely assume from the titles of his two latest publications — Bishwaser Virus (Virus of faith) and Abishwaser Darshan (Philosophy of disbelief) — that he believed in free and rational intellectual pursuit beyond any theological belief system. His way of thinking may seem unorthodox and even anti-convention to the majority of people in Bangladesh; however, he had every right to pursue and articulate such thinking in print, online or else. That he had to pay the price for what he believed in with his life tends to highlight how vicious and pervasive intolerance of divergent and opinions has become in society.
As much as we condemn the ferocity and bigotry of Avijit’s purported killers, we cannot condone the failure of the authorities — the Dhaka University administration in particular and the government in general — to ensure public safety and security on the university campus, especially when the most high-profile book fair in the country, Amar Ekushey Granthamela, is ongoing. It is all the more so in view of their well-publicised claim of comprehensive security on the campus, including the venue of the fair. The police, the Rapid Action Battalion and different other law enforcement agencies deployed on the campus to ensure public safety and security certainly owe people an explanation for the serious security failure that led to the attack on Avijit and also his wife, who is now under treatment for grievous injuries.
What is ironic, perhaps, is that those who supposedly believe in the right to freedom of thought and expression and people at large would now have to seek redress for Avijit’s killing from a government, which itself has apparently become increasingly vicious and violent in its intolerance of divergent political views and opinions. However, it is imperative that those opposed to free and rational thinking should be given a clear message, ie the space for diversity of views and opinions would be protected at any cost, by serious, sincere and stringent measures to immediately identify Avijit’s killers and put them in the dock. To prove that it is up to the task of protecting such space and repelling its intruders, the government must first abandon its own intolerant attitude towards and action against those critical of its authoritarian governance.

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The Daily Star - March 01, 2015

Commentary by Mahfuz Anam

We are all Mukto-Mona
Avijit’s murder is an attack on Free Thought

Mukto-Mona, meaning freethinker, is the name of the blog that Avijit founded. Today we want to declare that we Bangladeshis are all, by our nature, culture and religion, Mukto-Mona.

All murders are bad and highly condemnable. But murdering for differences in thoughts, values and ideas is by far the worst. This murder is against all that our civilisation has achieved, everything that humanitarian values stand for, everything that our education teaches us, everything that modern-day culture stands for. Everything that Islam’s all-embracing humanity and tolerance teach us.

In our special case, such murders are against everything that every freedom fighter dreamt of, fought and laid down their lives for and what our independence struggle collectively represents. Such murders are against our “Mind”, against flowering of our human potential, our intrinsic capacity to love, innovate, invent. Against that innate human quality called creativity.

Avijit’s has been one such murder and every one of us, as ONE, must condemn it, rise against it and build up the strongest, the widest and the deepest resistance against it.

He was a scholar, a writer and an intellectual. He was a freethinker and debated with others about the fundamental philosophic, social and existential questions facing humanity and us as Bangladeshis. He did not believe in religious dogmas and argued against dogmas everywhere and in everything. From his blogs, it is very clear that his was a philosophical position in which he argued against all sorts of prejudice, hatred, stigmatisation and compartmentalisation of the human spirit including those that stem from religious extremism.

From the exchanges in his blogs, it is clear that his intention was always to intellectually engage and persuade. His was the highest pursuit of the human mind and spirit.

So when such a person is killed, our nation as a whole, committed as we are to freedom of thought and expression, must see it as a threat to both our nation and to our own personal freedoms.

There are two issues here, the first, that of safeguarding our constitution that guarantees our freedom of thought and expression, and the second, preventing deliberate attempts to distort the teaching of the Holy Quran and the teachings of our Prophet (PBUH) in order to justify murders and killings which has nothing to do with Islam. Avijit’s murder proves, if proof was at all necessary, that these people are averse to any discussion on religion even if conducted purely at an intellectual level.

The peace and tolerance that is the core value of Islam is being completely distorted by the extremists that the true believers of Islam must do everything to expose and fight. Resistance to this trend must also come from our religious leaders, just as it must come from everyone of us.

This paper and this writer have consistently supported this government’s stand against extremism in Bangladesh. We believe that the government led by Sheikh Hasina has been steadfast and most determined in taking a firm stand against extremism.

At the policy level and in terms of public standing, the government’s role has been clear and unambiguous. However, in terms of implementing its policy by catching and then punishing the culprits, the record is disturbingly poor. This has given birth to a sense of impunity for which the authorities have to bear criticism.

The death threats against bloggers started mainly from the time of the 2013 Gonojagoron Mancha. The murder of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider during the protest was the first such case. Asif Mohiuddin was another blogger who was stabbed. He fortunately survived. While in the case of Rajib, seven accused are about to be charge-sheeted, none has so far been arrested in Asif Mohiuddin’s case.

Two unidentified men came from behind and hacked Avijit to death and seriously injured his wife Bonya. Both naturalised citizens of the US, they had come to Dhaka on the 16th February to launch three of his latest books in the Boi Mela. He was to return on the 4th of March.

We find police statements to be highly inadequate and the overall efficiency of the force a matter of grave concern.

For obvious reasons, security during the just ended Boi Mela was far more intense than before. There was police presence almost everywhere. As it is now established, police were nearby and in fact witnessed the incident, initially taking it to be some sort of a scuffle. Even if police were taken by surprise at first, its response was highly inadequate signalling a lethargic attitude that marks all emergency responses of our police. If not to assist the victims, the police should have definitely done a better job in pursuing the fleeing assassins. Why they failed on that score is a very serious question that leaders of our police force must investigate in all seriousness.

It is our earnest belief that culprits will be caught and justice will be meted out to them. But far more important is to fight the intolerance against ’free thinking’, against ’debates’ and against all sorts of religious discourses that seem to underlie the viewpoint of Avijit’s killers. The tweets in support of the killing show, however small, that there is a group within Bangladesh who seems to have adopted the thinking of global extremist groups and who thinks nothing of murdering people they identify to be of other views.

This is our real battle, and one in which we must fight together. There cannot be any relenting in isolating and destroying these groups. But simultaneous to the direct physical confrontation, we must also fight them ideologically. It is our view that through direct contact with people and through a very comprehensive and well thought-out door-to-door campaign we must convince those ordinary people who may have fallen prey to the extremists’ call that they are misinterpreting the message of Islam and that of our Holy Prophet (PBUH). There is no denying the fact that the extremists have made some inroads among a section of our youth, especially the educated ones. These young men and women have access to the internet and can directly link with the global networks of extremism. Obviously, we can and must be monitoring them. How effectively, continuously and comprehensively such monitoring can be done is only known to the authorities. But in addition to that we strongly urge the above suggested comprehensive grassroots level campaign against the evils of extremism.

So far there has been no such effort to the best of our knowledge.