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Things Fall Apart

April 2, 2015

Within a month of the murder of American-Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy, another blogger Oyasikur Rahman Babu[1] was hacked to death in broad daylight in Dhaka.

His blogging activities mostly revolve round on religion and he is not a prominent name on Bangla blogosphere. Two assailants were caught red handed from the scene and they confessed their involvement in the killing. However, one killer managed to run away. Both the detained killers claimed to be students of two religious seminaries.

Unlike the Avijit’s murder, no extremist group has so far claimed any responsibility of the attack. The assailants have no idea about blog or ICT and said they had been told that Babu defamed Islam.

Oyasikur’s critical and mocking views about religion drew extremists’ attention. Soon after the attack on Avijit, he had changed his FB cover and picture with “#iamavijit” and “words cannot be killed”. His FB account indicates that he belonged to “Atheist Bangladesh” and other similar groups. Mastermind(s) of this attack tracked him down and listed him for killing [2].

The latest incident demonstrates government failure to protect innocent civilians.

Law-enforcement agencies know well that lives of this kind of bloggers are in danger in a conservative society like ours. However, they did not take any prior steps to protect them.

Government seems more interested to contain BNP rather than to fight religious extremism. The way they planned and executed the attack indicates that the perpetrators were never under any kind of surveillance.

Neither BNP nor AL officially condemned the attack. Even the leftist elements in the cabinet remained tight-lipped. Hefajet-i-Islam spokesman Mufti Faijullah in a TV talk-show criticized the attack and said,”The group does not approve that individuals carry out attacks on others or take laws into their own hands.” Hefajet also denied the association of one of the assailants with its Chittagong based seminary.

It is important to note that so far only little known bloggers, who have small readership, identified as atheist were killed. Despite government’s mass surveillance program, we see the hatred campaigners continue unabated their propaganda on social media praising the attack.

Following Avijit’s attack, the role of Police was questioned as the assailants had comfortably escaped the scene amid heavy presence of Police.

This time, a group of transgender people and a Police petrol team chased and arrested the killers.

But why are the bloggers being targeted? Only for religious grounds? Not all the slain bloggers wrote about religion. For instance, I can name two—–slain BUET student Deep and Gonojagoron Mancha (Shahbag movement) organizer Jagatjyoti Talukder.

Like the free press, bloggers on several occasions quite successfully embarrassed the government exposing its ill intensions, corruption and dubious role. But unlike the free media, they can publish whatever they wish on a wide range of topic including religion with no holds barred.

Having drafted draconian policy for print and electronic media, government is now poised to introduce similar policy for blogging.

The recent murders of Avijit and Oyasikur serve some other purposes that we continue to ignore:

  • intimidate the bloggers [4], in general , who are critical towards the government policies and work as a pressure group to speed up the war crimes trial;
  • keep the Islamists away from any kind of anti-government protest on streets as BNP-Jamaat’s petrol bomb campaign ,rejected by people, failed to force the government to hold any dialogue with BNP;
  •  justify the purchase of sophisticated surveillance software to spy on dissent voices [5].

First quarter of this year witnesses violent petrol bomb campaign by BNP-led alliance and gruesome murders of two innocent bloggers. Bangladeshis do not know what awaits them next. But one question appears to be more important than this current uncertainty: is there really a functioning government right now in Bangladesh?
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Notes:

[1]. Babu, a trainer in a travel agency, used to live with his motor-parts vendor father at a rented flat in capital city’s Tejgaon area where the attack took place. Apart from religion, he also wrote about Chittagong hill tracts and politics.

[2]. Detained assailants told Police that a man named Masum instructed and provided them machetes and pictures of Babu to carry out the attack.

[3].Hefajet first emerged in the political landscape in protest of govt’s new women policy that it views as contradictory to Islamic codes. On May 5 ,2013 it staged a mass gathering at the commercial hub of Dhaka in protest of atheist bloggers involved in the Shahbag movement. Both BNP and AL provided moral and material support to make the gathering a complete success. Since the release of Jawahiri’s message on Bangladesh last year, Hefajet has been notably quiet and has taken a back seat in the political arena.

[4]. According to a NY Times report, some of the bloggers have shut down their blogs and are planning to leave the country.

[5].Recently, Swiss govt has held up a purchase deal of surveillance software after a rights group brought allegations of gross human rights violations against Bangladesh’s leading law-enforcement agencies. RAB has shown renewed interest in acquiring such software.

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