Professor Shafiul Islam, a professor of sociology in Rajshahi University was attacked with a machete by unknown assailants outside his home in Rajshahi city on November 15. He died from his injuries in a nearby hospital some hours later. According to news reports, the professor led a push to ban students wearing full-face veils at his university in 2012, stoking the wrath of Islamist hardliners. The professor argued that full-face veils made it difficult to identify individual students and that they could even be used to cheat on university examinations.
Rajshahi is a major urban and industrial centre of North Bengal and is located on the river Padma near Bangladesh-India border. Rajshahi University is a stronghold of the religious political party Jamaat and its student wing Islami Chatra Shibir. Pro-Jamaat newspapers in 2010 reported that Shafiul Islam had banned the burqa as the then-chair of the university’s sociology department, a policy that offended religious sentiments among many in the majority-Muslim country. At that time, Shafiul had sent rejoinders to some of those newspapers claiming that he had only expelled one female student from his class because she was cheating using her burqa.
A previously unknown Islamist group claimed responsibility for Shafiul's killing, after opening a Facebook page late on Saturday:
Their status reads:
Our Mujahideens have killed an ‘atheist’ of Rajshahi University who had banned wearing burqa in his department.
Public outrage over the assassination has since become palpable both online and off:
Protest rage after #Jihadist kills pro-sufi university teacher, 3rd secularist teacher to die in #Rajshahi university http://t.co/tf2IxA6iAK
— SALEEM SAMAD (@saleemsamad) November 17, 2014
Update: Prof #SafiulIslamMurder: Rajshahi Metropolitan Police commissioner withdrawn http://t.co/RosuJGWr1N pic.twitter.com/yU9j4O56cr
— The Daily Star (@dailystarnews) November 17, 2014
34 arrested over Rajshahi University teacher murder…long way to go… http://t.co/vpfxDwuLmn
— probirbidhan (@probirbidhan) November 17, 2014
According to reports, the Facebook page generated more than 2,000 likes from people who appeared to support the killing. In a long status update on November 17, posts on the page hinted at who might be the next targets of the group. One status update gave an exhaustive list of potential targets including university and secondary school faculty, public representatives and local opinion leaders, heads of organisations, judges, lawyers, doctors, intellectuals, journalists, and even actors.
After the Facebook page link was published by various media outlets, netizens flagged the page using Facebook's abuse reporting system, arguing that it violates the platform's Community Standards. The first section of Facebook’s Community Standards reads:
Safety is Facebook's top priority. We remove content and may escalate to law enforcement when we perceive a genuine risk of physical harm, or a direct threat to public safety. You may not credibly threaten others, or organize acts of real-world violence.
The Community Standards also address harassment:
Facebook does not tolerate bullying or harassment. We allow users to speak freely on matters and people of public interest, but take action on all reports of abusive behavior directed at private individuals. Repeatedly targeting other users with unwanted friend requests or messages is a form of harassment.
Nevertheless, in the days following the page's publication, Facebook responded to abuse reports with generic messages such as these:
Netizens persisted in reporting the page as an abuse of Facebook's Community Standards. On Nov. 18, 2014 Facebook removed the page.
Police say that they believe the killing may have been perpetrated by militants backed by the conservative religious Jamaat-e-Islami group.
Rajshahi University has seen killings of its teachers Professor Mohammad Yunus in 2004 and Professor Taher Ahmed in 2006. Pranab Kumar Panday writes in an op-ed in the Daily Star:
It is really unfortunate to see that public university teachers are being harassed and killed very often. [..] These incidents are creating a sense of insecurity among the teachers of public universities. They are also indicative of the deterioration of law and order in the country.
Meanwhile, the threats continue. The Facebook page that claimed responsibility for killing Shafiul Islam recently announced their next target. The post reads:
Next Target . . . teacher of Bogra Govt. Women`s College. Offense: Banning burka. Offense date: September 2014. Punishment: Death. Chance: Yes. All atheists who oppose Islam be careful.
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