Thirty-one-year-old Ananta Bijoy Das, who was hacked to death in the Sylhet division of Bangladesh on Tuesday, is the latest victim of an Islamist campaign against bloggers in the country. He was one of 84 bloggers and activists named on a list compiled by Islamists which has been circulating on the Internet since 2013.
Nine people from the so-called hit list have already been slain. Although its existence has not been officially confirmed by police, the blogging community in Bangladesh is convinced the killings are taking place in accordance with the hit list.
Police investigation under scrutiny
Arif Jebtik, a prominent activist and one of the winners of the Bobs people's choice awards in 2011, pointed out on Facebook that police haven't taken the hit list seriously even though it was passed on to them two years ago. Today he noted that: "The ninth blogger on the hit list has been killed in Sylhet. And the list must have been updated in the last two years. However, the police didn't try to protect those who were in the list. Now, they are being killed regularly, on a monthly basis."
Indeed, three bloggers have been killed so far this year. US-Bangladeshi Blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death in Dhaka on February 26, after promoting a book named "The Virus of Faith" at the National Book Fair. His name was third on the hit list, according to newspaper reports. Another blogger, Washiqur Rahman, was hacked to death on March 30.
Arif Jebtik, whose name is also in the list, fears that soon Islamist extremists will be attacking bloggers on a weekly basis. And he fears a new hit list with more names may emerge after fundamentalists have killed everyone on the present list.
Killers using social media
Soon after the murder of blogger Ananta Bijoy Das, a group named Ansar Bangla 8 claimed responsibility for the murder. The group first tweeted, "Allahu Akbar!!! Another one killed in Bangladesh few hours ago. Soon we'll confirm you (sic) from our Operation team."
The group then tweeted several times on Tuesday claiming responsibility for the murder. It has even declared that the team that hacked the blogger to death returned to base successfully. The group justified the killing with a reference to Das' role as a moderator of the Mukto-Mona blog. This indicates that the extremists are well informed about their targets.
The group's Twitter activity clearly shows that a well-organized team is behind the killings. The group also tweeted about the murder of blogger Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman after the crimes. Imran H. Sarker, a prominent activist whose name is also on the list, alleges that the killers have close contacts with some intelligence and police officers. He reasons that it would otherwise be very hard to get vital information about the individual bloggers in a country of more than 160 million people. Moreover, the government's reluctance to defend the bloggers has left them exposed, says Sarker.
Ominously, the Twitter account that announced Das' murder started following Sarker on May 5. In an interview with DW Sarker said the apparent killers are probably in contact with other terrorist groups in South Asia.
"I've spent couple of hours researching their Twitter activity. They are actively trying to project their terrorist activities to the world using social media platforms," said Sarker.
However, Jahangir Alam, deputy commissioner of the Dhaka police has denied that any police officers were in touch with the Islamists. He also claimed that the police were not aware of the hit list of bloggers and activists.
'Bloggers are no longer safe in Bangladesh'
"Within three months we have lost a second person who was actively involved with Mukto-Mona," Farid Ahmed, a moderator of the Mukto-Mona site, told DW. "We knew that Ananta was in great danger as he was the editor of a rationalist magazine called Jukti."
"With all these killings of the bloggers recently, I can safely say that the progressive minded and rationalist bloggers are not safe in Bangladesh at all. Avijit Roy, Washikur Rahman Babu and Ananta Bijoy Das were all killed in broad daylight and in crowded places," he said.
Bernhard Hertlein of Amnesty International also thinks Bangladesh is no longer a safe country for bloggers and free thinkers. He told DW that, "the brutal killing of Ananta Bijoy Das has shocked Amnesty International. We cannot ignore this third murder of an atheist blogger this year in Bangladesh. Quite the contrary: it is time now for an outcry."
"Together with human right advocates in Bangladesh, Amnesty International is calling for justice and for measures to protect the right of freedom of opinion. The government should take action to protect journalists and bloggers."
The ruling Bangladeshi government hasn't yet condemned any of the murders of bloggers this year. The political situation in Bangladesh is so volatile that Sajeeb Wazed, son of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her adviser, does not think it wise for his mother to comment at the present time.
For "Reporters without Borders" this is not good enough. They had repeatedly called on the Dhaka government to "conduct an investigation and identify those responsible and protect potential victims."