A young man named Oyasiqur Rahman Babu was hacked to death on the morning of March 30, 2015 in Bangladesh, allegedly by religious fundamentalists. This is the second such killing in a month's time.
Rahman reportedly died quickly after being attacked on the street by three assailants, who disfigured his face with machetes. Although he worked mainly for a travel agency, Rahman appears to have maintained a robust online presence, writing under the pseudonym Washiqur Babu on Facebook and other platforms. Until his death, his legal identity was unknown among most members of the online communities to which he belonged.
On Facebook, Rahman had written several notes opposing irrational religious belief and belonged to a group called Atheist Bangladesh. He was active on different blogging sites including dhormockery.com, a satirical website of atheists criticizing all religions, including Islam. Dhormockery is blocked in Bangladesh. He was also a member of Logical Forum, an online discussion forum, and wrote on the local somewhereinblog platform.
The incident came just a month after the murder of secular blogger and science writer Bangladeshi-American Avijit Roy (see Global Voices report). After Avijit’s killing, Rahman joined the protests, condemning the killing and paying tribute to Roy by replacing his Facebook profile and cover photos with the text: #iamavijit and “words cannot be killed” (see below).
Rahman's attackers mainly targeted his head and neck, similar to previous attacks on bloggers Ahmed Rajib Haider and Avijit Roy. The assailants tried to run away, but two were captured by bystanders and police. According to BDNews24, one is a madrassa student from Hathazari area of Chittagong and the other attends a madrassa situated in Dhaka’s Mirpur area. The fundamentalist group Hefazat e Islam has a particularly strong presence in Chittagong.
The killing appears to have been well-coordinated and planned. One of the accused confessed to the killing, saying:
ব্লগ কি বুঝি না, আর তার লেখাও আমরা দেখিনি। হুজুরের পরামর্শ, সে ইসলামবিরোধী। তাকে হত্যা করা ঈমানি দায়িত্ব। আর সেই ঈমানি দায়িত্ব পালন করতে ওয়াশিকুরকে হত্যা করেছি।
We don’t know what a blog is. We have never read what he wrote. Our religious leader said that he is Anti-Islamic. It’s an obligation to kill him. So we fulfilled that obligation by killing him.
Online activists and writers have expressed their grief and frustration over these recurring incidents. Exiled writer Taslima Nashrin tweeted:
Another blogger Washikur Rahman Babu was hacked to death today in Bangladesh by Muslim fanatics. Bangladesh is not a place for freethinkers.
— taslima nasreen (@taslimanasreen) March 30, 2015
Amnesty International expressed their concern over the events:
— AmnestyInternational (@AmnestyOnline) March 30, 2015
Protest have been shown by Gonojagaran Mancha (National Awakening Stage) on the streets:
— Dr. Imran H Sarker (@ImranHSarker) March 30, 2015
Rahman is rumored to have authored a 52-episode series for Dhormockery.com under the pseudonym Obishyashi (disbeliever), called “Jaw-crushing answers to insulting comments of atheists.” He listed questions raised about Islam, alongside answers commonly given to them, but paired the questions together in order to highlight how the answers are very often illogical, or contradict each other entirely.
Here is an example posted by International Humanist and Ethical Union:
Insulting comment 21: Islam is claimed to be ‘the best and the complete way of life’. Does that mean that slavery is valid for eternity?
Jaw-crushing answer: See, Islam is a humane religion. Slavery was not forbidden because of the situation of that time. But there is scope for ‘qiyas and ijma’ (consensus and reconsideration) in Islam. That means any custom can be abolished.
In 2013, a group of religious clerics from Chittagong, led by Hefazate e Islam, submitted a list of 84 bloggers who they accused of posting blasphemous content online. A latest report in an online newspaper alleged that eight bloggers from the list have died due to obvious or mysterious reasons. It is not clear whether Rahman’s name was on the list.
Bangladesh is a non-religious parliamentary democracy, meaning there is no sharia or blasphemy law. People who identify as atheist have the same rights as other citizens. However, under Section 295A of Bangladesh's Penal Code (1860), any person who has a “deliberate” or “malicious” intention of “hurting religious sentiments” is liable to imprisonment. Government inaction and police ineffectiveness have also given Islamist groups a certain amount of impunity in recent years. Yesterday's news suggests that the country is indeed becoming a dangerous place for free thinkers.