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Bangladesh: Murder of Avijit Roy, American-Bangladeshi Blogger

(Mar. 20, 2015) Bangladeshi-American secular blogger Avijit Roy was killed by a number of assailants in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on February 27, 2015, after he had attended a book fair with his wife, who was attacked in the same incident. (Ray Sanchez, Prominent Bangladeshi-American Blogger Avijit Roy Killed, CNN (Feb. 27, 2015).)

A United States citizen of Bangladeshi descent, Avijit Roy went to Bangladesh to participate in the book fair. Roy was founder of the Mukto-Mona (Free-Mind) blog, which featured articles on scientific reasoning and religion. He also wrote a number of books, including the best-selling Biswasher Virus (Virus of Faith). According to the news media in Bangladesh and around the world, this atheist blogger angered fundamentalist groups through his writings, and a photo caption in an article in The Guardian states “Islamists claim responsibility for murder of prominent US-Bangladeshi blogger.” (Saad Hammadi & Mark Tran, Bangladeshis Protest After Atheist Writer Avijit Roy Hacked to Death, GUARDIAN (Feb. 27, 2015).)

Roy is reportedly the second atheist blogger suspected to have been killed by Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh in the past two years. The first was Ahmed Rajib Haider, in February 2013. (Id.) The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the Roy murder case in collaboration with the Bangladesh Criminal Investigation Department. (Serajul Quadir, FBI To Help Investigate U.S. Citizen Blogger Killing in Bangladesh, REUTERS (Mar. 3, 2015).)

Farabi Shafiur Rahman has been arrested as a prime suspect in the case, although not all the suspects involved have as yet been identified. According to a news article, Rahman had been arrested in the Ahmed Rajib Haider homicide case, but he was later released on bail. (Bangladesh Authorities Arrest Man over Atheist Blogger’s Murder, THE GUARDIAN (Mar. 2, 2015); Mohammad Jamil Khan, No Headway in Secular Writer Avijit Roy Murder, DHAKA TRIBUNE (Mar. 19, 2015).)

Applicable Provisions of Law

If Rahman is convicted of the crime, he may face capital punishment under section 302 of the Penal Code. It states: “[w]hoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”. (The Penal Code, 1860 (Oct. 6, 1860, as amended up to 2010), Ch. XVI, § 302, LAWS OF BANGLADESH.)

It may be noted that the Penal Code includes provisions on offenses relating to religion and may play an important role in the Roy homicide case. Section 295A of Chapter XV provides:

Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of the citizens of Bangladesh, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. (The Penal Code, 1860, Ch. XV, § 295A.)

Haider Case Developments

In the Haider case, the Metropolitan Sessions court in Dhaka has issued an indictment against eight suspects, and has set April 21, 2015, as the start date for the trial. (Court Indicts 8 in Blogger’s Murder Case, GULF TODAY (Mar. 19, 2015).) If found guilty, all of the accused may face the same punishment under section 34 of the Penal Code, which states: “[w]hen a criminal act is done by several persons, in furtherance of the common intention of all, each of such persons is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone.” (The Penal Code, 1860, Ch. II, § 34.)

A Note on the Book Fair

The Bengali Language Movement of 1952, which advocated the recognition of Bengali as the state language of Bangladesh, is considered as having been the first step towards the creation of the independent country of Bangladesh.  In order to highlight the significance of this language movement, a book fair is held in Dhaka every year in the month of February. This year, the book fair started on February 1. (President, PM Wish Success of Ekushey Book Fair, BANGLADESH SANGBAD SANGBAD SANGSTHA (Jan. 31. 2015).)