The third attack in less than three months on a secular critic is an indication of rising religious extremism in the South Asian nation of Bangladesh.
Ananta Bijoy Das, a 33-year-old banker and blogger who advocated secularism, was attacked by four men in northeastern Sylhet district as he headed to work, a senior police official Mohammad Rahamatullah told Reuters.
Das wrote blogs for Mukto-Mona (Free Thinkers), a website formerly moderated by Avijit Roy, another Bangladeshi-American who was stabbed to death in the capital, Dhaka, in February. In the following month in the same city, another secular blogger Washiqur Rahman was killed in a similar machete attack.
The spate of killings has spread fear in the atheist community of the Muslim majority country – more so since the government seems helpless in front of religious extremists.
Omi Rahman Pial, another prominent blogger, told The New York Times that several of his colleagues were considering seeking asylum outside Bangladesh and more “have begun shutting their blogs down.”
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The People's Republic of Bangladesh went from being a secular state in 1971 to having Islam as the state religion in 1988 under the military rule of Hussain Muhammad Ershad. Despite its state religion, Bangladesh still uses a secular penal code that originated during the British occupation in 1860.
However, the increase in religious extremism is apparent given the fact that advocates of secularism are being hunted down by the country’s authorities under duress from fundamentalist political parties.
Before the murders of Roy, Rahman and Das, another writer Ahmed Rajib Haider was hacked to death in February 2013. In the same year, Bangladesh police arrested four atheist bloggers for allegedly defaming Islam amid calls from religious hardliners for an Internet crackdown.
There was little hope of any justice from the authorities since the country’s law minister, Shafique Ahmed, made matters worse by announcing that he was “planning to strengthen its control over social media, blogs and online newspapers” and Home Minister M.K. Alamgir said the government has a “list of more atheist bloggers" – provided by an Islamist group – who would soon be arrested.
Although the motive behind his brutal murder is still under investigation, it is widely suspected that Ananta Bijoy Das was killed by radical Islamists.