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World

Bangladeshi Blogger, Known As Free-Thinker, Violently Killed In Dhaka

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A blogger was hacked to death today in the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka. Police say three men armed with knives murdered Washiqur Rahman on a busy street near his home. This comes just weeks after a similar slaying of another blogger, a Bangladeshi-American, Avijit Roy. For more on this, we're joined by Zafar Sobhan. He's editor of the English-language Dhaka Tribune. Mr. Sobhan, welcome to the program.

ZAFAR SOBHAN: Hello, Robert.

SIEGEL: And help us understand who Washiqur Rahman was. And how prominent was he?

SOBHAN: Well, Washiqur Rahman was part of a group of freethinking, some might say atheistic, bloggers. They were part of something called the Logical Forum. Avijit Roy was part of this community. And it's a very vibrant, very lively community, and they are very open about their views. They are skeptical about religion. The worrisome fact is, while Avijit Roy was a very prominent member of this community, Washiqur Rahman was a less-prominent member, which is scary because it suggests that essentially anyone who is part of this community is now on the radar screen of the killers.

SIEGEL: Did this circle of bloggers - were they given to publishing insults to the Prophet Muhammad?

SOBHAN: Not at all. They were respectful in their critiques. They did not critique Islam solely. They were critical of all organized religions. So it was Islam, Hinduism, Christianity. They have been accused of insulting and abusive language, but I have found no evidence of this.

SIEGEL: This is the fourth such attack on a writer in Bangladesh since 2004. Are they connected? Are these attacks believed to be connected?

SOBHAN: Well, it's hard to say because we don't exactly know who is responsible, but we do know that it's clear that these are radical, militant, fringe Islamist organizations who feel that these bloggers were ideological enemies - enemies of Islam. And there is an ideological battle going on between them and the freethinkers.

SIEGEL: Are surviving members of this community getting any special police protection these days in light of the evident danger of being a blogger of this sort?

SOBHAN: They're getting no protection whatsoever. And they have abundance of evidence in terms of how dangerous it is. In fact, Avijit, for instance, suffered many death threats and nothing was done. I think, clearly, what we're seeing here is a failure on the part of law enforcement. And I think that's something they absolutely must do a better job of going forward.

SIEGEL: Do you have any explanation for why these attacks have become more common in the past couple of years, that there have been three such killings since 2013, and the one before that was in 2004? Is something going on in Bangladeshi society that would explain that?

SOBHAN: Yeah. Recently, over the last couple of years, we have had war crimes trials in Bangladesh. This is to do with our War of Independence in 1971. And most of the people who have been put on trial are Islamists. They were people who were collaborating with the Pakistan occupation army back in 1971. Now, war crimes trials are very important. However, I think the downside is that they have been painted as a movement against religious people, against Islamists. So I think as a result, those who are of a religious bent feel targeted. I think they feel as though they are on the defensive. And so they have decided to step up their opposition and step up their campaign of terror and violence.

SIEGEL: Zafar Sobhan, thank you very much for talking with us.

SOBHAN: Thank you very much. It was my pleasure.

SIEGEL: Mr. Sobhan is editor of English-language Dhaka Tribune in Bangladesh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.