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Death for free thought

Editorial |

The lull in Bangladesh has been direly deceptive. The murder of the writer, blogger and publisher, Shahjahan Bachchu, in Munshiganj district lengthens the loop of such killings, almost invariably by Islamist fundamentalists. But whereas the manner of the serial killings in recent years ~ by machete-wielding fundamentalists ~ had pointed to the culpability of ISIS, this time no group has as yet claimed responsibility.

Nor for that matter has the Awami government, given its obsessive concern with the national elections this year, reacted to the mayhem, let alone tracked down the culprits. Even the modus operandi would appear to have changed. Shahjahan, the 55-year-old owner of a publishing house, Bisakha Prokashoni, and editor of the weekly, Amador Bikrampur, was gunned down after iftar. The fact that he was killed in the holy month of Ramzan and five days before Id-ul-Fitr has deepened the enormity of the tragedy.

Sad to reflect, the administration tends to drag its feet in the face of such incidents, even if the killings occur in Dhaka. Palpably, this is yet another instance of fundamentalists targeting free thought and expression. Known for his free-thinking views on religious matters, Shahjahan was a former general secretary of the Munshiganj chapter of the Communist Party of Bangladesh. The authorities are yet to react to the condemnation of the International Federation of Journalists, which has demanded urgent action to arrest and punish the attackers. That basic demand has been couched in an appeal to the government to ensure safety to publishers, journalists, and bloggers who face horrifying consequences for expressing their views online. Both in India and Bangladesh, there has been a killing too many of rationalists, without a matching attempt to stem the tide.

The liberal segment across the border is particularly astonished over the rather incredible fact that none of the perpetrators of these killings since 2013 have been brought to book. It would be pertinent to recall that the murder of Ahmed Rajib Haider in February 2013 by machete-wielding assailants ~ with links to a banned extremist outfit ~ was one of the first of the resonant messages that free-thinkers would be targeted. The killing of blogger Avijit Roy in Dhaka on 26 February 2015 had shocked the world, as did the hacking in October of the same year of Roy’s publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan, who ran Jagriti Prokashoni. The killing of Nazimuddin Samad on

6 April 2016 in the crowded Sutrapur area by suspected Islamist militants chanting Allahu Akbar had convulsed the country. The sinister pattern is a recent phenomenon, a blot on the record of the Awami dispensation… post its uncontested victory in 2013.