Attacks on secular activists continue

Bangladeshi police examining the scene of an attack on publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul, along with two secular bloggers, in an office in Dhaka on Saturday. The government has been accused of failing to halt the rise in deadly violence blamed on hardli
Bangladeshi police examining the scene of an attack on publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul, along with two secular bloggers, in an office in Dhaka on Saturday. The government has been accused of failing to halt the rise in deadly violence blamed on hardline Islamists.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Protesters rally in Dhaka after publisher killed, three others attacked in separate incident

DHAKA • Protesters rallied in the Bangladesh capital yesterday over the latest attacks against secular writers and publishers, accusing the government of failing to halt the rise in deadly violence blamed on hardline Islamists.

Teachers, writers, students and other protesters converged on Dhaka University to vent their anger a day after a gang of men armed with machetes and cleavers hacked to death a publisher of secular books.

Two secular bloggers and another publisher were also badly injured in a similar and separate attack in Dhaka on Saturday, leaving them in pools of blood in their office.

"First they targeted the writers, and now the publishers and soon they'll target all of us," Ms Samina Lutfa, a teacher at the university, told the rally of a couple of hundred protesters. "Don't stay at home, come out on the street and protest against these killings," she said at the campus.

Protesters are calling for similar rallies elsewhere in the country.

Fears of Islamist violence have been rising in Muslim-majority Bangladesh after four atheist bloggers were murdered this year, allegedly by Islamist hardliners.

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) claimed responsibility for Saturday's attacks, along with the four earlier ones, branding the victims "blasphemers" and warning any writers who criticise Islam of being next in line.

The police said Mr Faisal Arefin Dipan, 43, was killed in his third-floor publishing office in central Dhaka, with his attackers padlocking the door from the outside as they left.

Mr Dipan published several books by Avijit Roy, a United States national of Bangladeshi origin, who was hacked to death outside a book fair in February in the capital.

Hours before Mr Dipan's murder, three unidentified attackers entered another publishing office, Shuddhaswar, and attacked its owner along with two secular bloggers, the police said.

Shuddhaswar owner Ahmedur Rashid Tutul, 43, whose condition is still serious, also previously brought out several of Roy's books including one on homosexuality.

"It's a failure of the government that it has not been able to prosecute the killers," said Mr Imran Sarker, head of a secular bloggers' group, which organised the protests.

"There is a climate of impunity in which these militants now operate brazenly," he said.

The police said both of Saturday's attacks bore the hallmarks of the earlier ones on bloggers. The police could not confirm if AQIS was behind the latest ones.

Bloggers said about a dozen secular writers have fled the country in fear following this year's killings, while some have faced threats themselves from Islamists.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government has blamed local hardline Islamist groups for the earlier attacks and launched a crackdown after facing Western criticism of failing to stop the bloodshed.

The government has accused its political opponents of orchestrating the attacks to destabilise the country.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2015, with the headline 'Attacks on secular activists continue'. Print Edition | Subscribe