Were grief-stricken, but undefeated!

These were the words you’d find written in Bengali text in white against a black background on the ‘mukto-mona’ (free-thinkers) site on 27th February, 2015. Mukto-mona.com was an internet community for freethinkers, rationalists, skeptics, atheists, and humanists, the site was founded by Atheist, Bangladeshi Blogger Avijit Roy (and he was one of the eight moderators) who, was hacked to death in full public view on the evening of 26th February, 2015 as he was returning with his wife, Rafida Ahmed, from the ‘Ekushey’ Book Fair in Dhaka. His wife was attacked too and is grievously injured. 

Avijit Roy was an Engineer working in Atlanta, Georgia in the USA and was of Bangladeshi origin. But, his true passion lay in writing. He has written about ten books, all exploring the themes of freethinking, religion, scepticism, philosophy, science and the human rights. But, his most critically acclaimed work was probably ‘Bishwasher Virus’ (The Virus of Faith). Apart from his published works, he was an active blogger on the ‘mukto-mona’ site and other newspapers and websites which published similar articles. Avijit Roy was the son of Ajoy Roy, retired professor of Physics at the Dhaka University and also a recipient of the ‘Ekushey Padak’. 

Avijit Roy and his wife had just arrived from the US in Dhaka, a week prior to his murder, to visit the ‘Ekushey’ Book Fair. It is being said that, he had received death threats from various religious and political outfits, who were outraged by the stands Avijit Roy took in his writings while, he was still in the US but, undeterred by these threats he still decided to make the journey from the Atlanta to Dhaka. 

On 26th February, at around 8.30 in the evening as Avijit Roy and his wife Rafida Ahmed Bonya, were returning from the Book fair, they were attacked by unidentified assailants. Two of the assailants threw them to the ground and then, they were attacked by machetes. Mr. Roy was stabbed and struck on the head, while his wife sustained injuries on her shoulders and the fingers on her left hand were severed. The assailants then, fled the location leaving the pair to bleed on the side-walk. There were witnesses to this incident, but nobody came and offered any help while, they were being attacked. Soon, after, they were rushed to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital where, Avijit Roy succumbed to his injuries at around 10.30 in the night and his wife laid grievously injured and missing a finger from her left hand. On 27th February, 2015 Ajoy Roy filed a case of murder at the Shahbagh Police Station, without naming any one in particular. In a twitter update on the day following the gruesome incident, an Islamist outfit, named Ansar Bangla-7, claimed responsibility for the killing. 

On 1st March, 2015, Avijit Roy’s body was placed in front of the Arts Building at the Dhaka University and people from various walks of life, those who knew Avijit Roy personally and a majority of people who did not, turned up to pay their last respects. The people even took to the streets and took part in a torch rally. There were protest demonstrations organised by students and activists which, were attended by people in heartening numbers, demanding the police to take rapid action against those involved.

On 2nd March, the Bangladesh Police Force delivered, they arrested Farabi Shafiur Rahman. He is a Muslim blogger who denounced atheism, had threatened Roy on Facebook posts. This is one of the comments posted by him: "Avijit Roy lives in America, so it's not possible to kill him right now. But he will be killed when he comes back." Responding to Rahman’s posts against "atheists", most of his followers said they ought to be killed to protect Islam. But, the authorities refused to comment on the question of whether, Farabi Rahman was one of the assailants or not. Rahman, also allegedly posted threats against the owner of the online bookstore, Rokomari.com, forcing him to stop selling Roy's books. And last year, he was detained -- then released -- for comments he allegedly made in support of the death of another blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider. Further, Rahman posted pictures of the crime scene on the 26th of February, within minutes of the attack, which is further suggestive of his involvement in the murder somehow. 

This is not the first murder of its kind that, Bangladesh has seen. Following the Shahbagh Protests in 2013, where there was uproar amongst the people in the country demanding the capital punishment of war criminal Abdul Quader Molla and the removal of the Jamaat-e-Islami from politics, various such attacks and assassinations were carried out.  Now, this movement was largely organised via social media by young bloggers who advocated for free thought, atheism and wanted scientific values to prevail over religion, much like Avijit Roy.  Islamist groups responded by organising protests calling for the execution of "atheist bloggers" accused of insulting Islam, and the introduction of a blasphemy law. In such an attack outside his house, blogger Asif Mohiuddin, was injured by four youths. A month after this incident, blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider was killed by Islamist groups. Avijit Roy was deeply disgusted by the stand the Bangladeshi Media took at that time, by portraying young, bloggers as “crooks in the public eye”. And he voiced his opinions strongly. He wrote to International Organisations, like the Centre for Inquiry and International Human and Ethical Union, trying to garner support for the bloggers who, were jailed in Bangladesh at that time. He was joined by various other writers, activists, and prominent secularists and intellectuals around the world.

Humayun Azad, was a Bangladeshi academic and poet, and was a contributor to Mukto-Mona and had survived a similar assassination attempt in Dhaka, only to be found dead in his Munich apartment a few months later, in 2004. Following his death, Roy writes in a tribute to him, how he was an admirer of Azad even before they met the similarities in their thinking on religion and how he lent support with his site when the academic was attacked. He ends the piece lamenting how Azad’s attackers had still not been caught and asks: “Did we really want a Bangladesh like this?”