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Asia

Opinion: Bangladeshi blogger's murder is a reprehensible act

Yet another blogger has been murdered in Bangladesh. It is a vile and reprehensible act committed by religious fanatics determined to prevent what they see as the threat of secularization, writes DW's Grahame Lucas.

The price of freedom of expression and freedom of speech in Bangladesh is terribly high. It has now cost 31-year-old Ananta Bijoy Das his life. Das is the third blogger to be slain publicly by Islamist extremists on city streets this year. The US-Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy was murdered in Febuary. In March blogger Washiqur Rahman was stabbed to death. Although no-one has been arrested yet, the crime bears all the hallmarks of a killing by Islamist extremists.

Like Roy and Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Das was typical of progressive, liberal writers in Bangladesh. He wrote prolifically on science and religion and worked for several publications including Mukto-Mona ("Free Mind"), the blogging site which won Deutsche Welle's prestigious Bobs award for social change in April 2015.

Mukto-Mona has made a name for itself with its critical approach to Islam. In particular the site uses science to challenge religious dogma cherished by the extremist Islamist right. This was one of Anata Bijoy Das' specialities. He was also the editor of Jukti ("Reason") and had written a book on Darwin and the evolution of the species. In 2006 his work won him the "Rationalist Award" for his views on secularism.

In the Bangladeshi context it has been apparent for some years now that the Islamist right are willing to use any means at their disposal to promote their distorted vision of Islamic society and to prevent a critical discussion of the role of Islam in Bangladesh. The precise place of Islam in Bangladeshi society has been controversial from the outset. To the chagrin of the Islamist right, the country's 1972 constitutional described Bangladesh as a secular state.

Deutsche Welle DW Grahame Lucas

DW's Grahame Lucas

In 1988, military ruler Ershad declared Islam to be the state religion but in 2010 the Supreme Court restored secularism as one of the basic planks of the Constitution. It was this ruling which triggered the emergence of the blogging movement, which is one of the most vibrant and critical in the world and seeks to broaden the scope of both freedom of expression and freedom of speech in the country and to challenge conventional and extremist religious standpoints.

The Dhaka government – in the knowledge that the ideas promoted by bloggers have little traction in mainstream politics in a majority moderate Muslim country - has done little to clamp down on Islamist extremists. Its primary goal remains the prosecution and conviction of Islamists at the so-called War Crimes Tribunal. This flawed legal process has done nothing to close the sorry chapter of the 1971 war of independence, but has fanned the flames between free thinkers and religious extremists still further.

The conduct of the police, who have done little to protect bloggers or prosecute the religious leaders behind the attacks on them, has led to widespread fear and uncertainty amongst liberal Bangladeshis, not least because of the emergence of a list of 84 liberally minded bloggers who Islamists intend to murder. The latest victim was number 9 on the list.

The murder of Ananta Bijoy Das like that of Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy before him is a vile and reprehensible act committed by religious fanatics determined to prevent what they see as the threat of secularization. They believe they are entitled to decide on where the limits of free speech and freedom of expression lie and blasphemy begin.

From their perspective, this is not the responsibility of democratically elected parliaments and independent courts of law. These religious fanatics have effectively hijacked a religion which preaches peace and tolerance to millions of believers and are using it to justify their crimes against humanity. It would appear that for the time being Bangladesh is caught up in a crisis which will only lead to more bloodshed. Western countries need to recognize the urgency of the situation. After all, Bangladesh's struggle against Islamist ideology is also their battle.

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