Although the string of murders of bloggers, publishers and other freethinkers by suspected Islamic militants in recent years appears to have died down due to nationwide drives by law enforcement agencies, the victims’ families are growing frustrated with slow progress in the cases filed over the incidents. Since the Shahbagh protests to demand the trial of war criminals in 2013, at least 10 freethinkers have been killed by militants across the country after being tagged as “atheists”.
The latest killing took place in June 2018, when writer, publisher and former Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) general secretary Shahjahan Bachchu, 55, was shot dead at Sirajdikhan upazila of Munshiganj. Most of the cases are stuck at the investigation level, with a court having delivered the verdict in just one case, while another is under trial. Among the 10 cases, eight were filed with different police stations in Dhaka. Investigations are yet to be completed in five of the eight cases, according to police sources.
Charge sheet in blogger Avijit Roy murder case yet to be filed
Militants killed writer and blogger Avijit Roy and severely injured his wife, Rafida Ahmed Banna, as the couple left the Ekushey Boi Mela on the Dhaka University (DU) campus on February 26, 2015. Police claim to have nearly completed the murder investigation, but are yet to submit a charge sheet even after four years of the incident. Avijit and Rafida’s family members have expressed dissatisfaction with the slow progress of the investigation on several occasions. Though originally filed as a murder case, police filed a petition with a Dhaka court asking for it to be tried under the Anti-Terrorism Act on October 29, 2018.
Police sources said the charge sheet in the case is ready for submission to the court, but the procedure was delayed due to the 11th general election on December 30 last year. The charge sheet will be submitted sometime in February, they added. “We will charge six members of banned militant outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT). Another suspect in the case, ABT’s operational wing member and IT expert, Mukul Rana, was killed in a gunfight in June 2016,” Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit Inspector Md Monirul Islam, also investigation officer (IO) of the case, told the Dhaka Tribune.
He added that a total of 11 ABT members were involved in the operation, with six taking part directly. “We could not trace the others,” the OC said. Monirul Islam further said that Syed Ziaul Haq, top ABT leader and sacked army major, was present during the attack, but he is yet to be located. Police have so far arrested 14 people in connection with the murder. Among them, seven have secured bail from the High Court, two died in prison, and the direct involvement of Mojammel Hossain Saimon, Arafat Hossain and Abu Siddique Sohel has been confirmed during investigation.
“Saimon, Afarat, Sohel and Mukul surrounded Avijit and his wife. Saimon and Mukul then hit them with sharp weapons,” the official said, regarding their findings. Police have also decided to charge Shafiur Rahman Farabi, a former Hizb ut-Tahrir leader, who has already been arrested. Farabi was not involved in the planning or murder, but he spread hatred against Avijit on Facebook and urged militants to kill him. “We have talked to Avijit’s father, Ajay Roy, about our findings. He is satisfied,” Monirul claimed.
Trial of Faisal Arefin Dipan killing case yet to begin
Jagriti Prokashoni publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan was hacked to death inside his office at Dhaka’s Aziz Super Market, allegedly by the members of banned militant group Ansar al-Islam on October 31, 2015. He was a friend of Avijit Roy and published one of his books. Detective Branch (DB) Assistant Commissioner and IO of the case Fazlur Rahman submitted the charge sheet to the Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court in November last year. Eight members of ABT were named as suspects.
Later, the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal fixed February 24 for hearing the case, after the Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court forwarded it the charge sheet. The tribunal also directed the jail authorities to produce six of the accused, who are in the jail, before it. The six arrestees are Moinul Hasan Shamim alias Samir alias Imran, Abdus Sabur alias Samad alias Sujon alias Raju, Khairul Islam alias Fahim alias Jishan, Sheikh Abdullah, Abu Siddiq Sohel and Mozammel Hossain alias Saimon. Police claim that sacked army major Syed Ziaul Haq was the planner of the attack. Another suspect, Akram Hossein alias Hasib, is also on the run.
A group of four youths stabbed to death blogger Niladri Chattopadhyay, 40, inside his flat at East Goran on August 7, 2015. Although the investigation has been running for more than three and a half years, police are yet to file a charge sheet or probe report in the case filed after the killing. Some 13 members of ABT were arrested in connection with the case, but seven of them have already secured bail from the High Court. A Dhaka court recently directed police to submit their probe report on February 5.
In the case filed over the murders of LGBT magazine editor Xulhaz Mannan and his friend, Mahbub Rabby Tonoy, on April 25, 2016, the CTTC unit failed to submit the probe report on 20 scheduled dates. The court has fixed February 18 as the next date to file the report. In the latest development, CTTC arrested ABT member Asadullah alias Fakrul alias Faisal, and he apparently confessed to his involvement after six days in remand in two phases. So far, police have arrested six ABT members in the case, and five of them have given confessional statements. According to their confessional statements, five members of ABT took part in the mission to kill Xulhaz and his friend. Three of them attacked the victims, while two others restrained the security guard of the building.
This attack was also the brainchild of sacked major Syed Ziaul Haq. Investigations into cases filed over the murders of blogger Ananta Bijoy Das in Sylhet on May 12, 2013, and online activist Nazimuddin Samad in April 2016 are also ongoing. Police have arrested eight ABT men in connection with the Nazimuddin killing, and a Dhaka court has fixed February 14 for submission of the probe report.
Justice served in one case, trial in progress in another
On April 2, 2017, the High Court upheld a speedy trial tribunal verdict that sentenced two people to death for killing blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider. On December 31, 2015, a special tribunal handed the death penalty to Md Faisal Bin Nayem alias Dweep, and former Shibir leader Redwanul Azad Rana for masterminding the blogger’s murder. They were also fined Tk10,000 each. In addition, the tribunal sentenced six others to various terms of imprisonment for the murder, including a five-year term for Ansarullah spiritual leader Mufti Jashim Uddin Rahmani.
Al-Qaeda’s Bangladesh wing ABT (now Ansar al-Islam) had claimed responsibility for the murder. Apart from this, only one other case filed over the murder of a freethinker has reached trial stage. A court has recorded statements of 22 witnesses, out of 40, in the case over the murder of secular activist Oyasiqur Rahman Babu. However, trial progress is slow as the prosecution is struggling to bring witnesses to the court. Oyasiqur Babu, a 27-year-old travel agency executive, used to actively write against war criminals of Jamaat-e-Islami, radical Islamist groups, and superstitions on Facebook.
Before being killed in the capital’s Tejgaon area as he was on his way to office on March 30, 2015, Babu had been campaigning against militant group ABT for the killing of Mukto-Mona blog founder Avijit Roy. Inspector Md Monirul Islam, who is now investigating both Xulhaz and Avijit murder cases, said the false names used by the perpetrators were causing delays in the investigations. “Even their partners in killing missions do not know their real names,” he added.
Monirul further said: “The militants do not normally use mobile phones. The pattern of their crimes suggests that they work in small groups.” DMP Deputy Commissioner (Media) Masudur Rahman recently told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that investigations were taking time as law enforcement officials initially did not have any idea about how the militants were operating. “Now that police have learned some details about the attackers, the investigations are speeding up,” he said.