Law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh have arrested five men suspected of involvement in the murders of several secular bloggers earlier this year. The arrests follow the murder of a fourth blogger in Dhaka on Aug. 7.
The arrests were made Monday night by a team of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite paramilitary force. Authorities claim one of those arrested was the “mastermind” behind the attacks on US-Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das.
Collaring the suspects, however, has done little to reassure the members of Bangladesh’s secular blogging community and online activists, most of whom are still receiving death threats from jihadist elements inside the country.
The RAB said at a press briefing on Tuesday, that the three suspected militants: Touhidur Rahman, 58, Sadek Ali Mithu, 28 and Aminul Mallik, 35, are part of a larger banned jihadist group called the Ansarullah Bangla (AB) Team that had killed Roy and Das this year.
Secular blogger Roy and his wife Rafida Ahmed Bonya were attacked with cleavers on the Dhaka University campus on February 26. Roy was killed while his wife lost a finger. Blogger Das was hacked to death on May 12 in broad daylight in the same manner in Sylhet.
RAB spokesperson Mufti Mahmud Khan told the media that the AB’s incarcerated chief Jasim Uddin Rahmani had ordered the killings from jail.
While RAB claimed that Mithu was directly involved in the murders, Mallik had allegedly helped some AB militants escape the country by helping them obtain fake passports. Mallik is a passport broker.
According to RAB, Rahman was a mastermind of the killings. Khan added that Rahman was also a main financier of the group. Rahman is a British citizen of Bangladeshi origin.
The arrests follow on the heels of a similar arrest made the previous week by the Detective Branch (DB) of the Bangladesh police.
On August 13, a DB team arrested Saad al-Nahin and Masud Rana, two individuals allegedly linked to the killing of blogger Niloy Chatterjee in Dhaka on Aug. 7.
Police deputy commissioner Saiful Islam had assured the public after these arrests that more operations were underway to apprehend several men, who are currently out on bail, and who are also believed linked to the hacking to death of Niloy Chatterjee.
While suspecting Rana and Nahin’s involvement with AB, police also said they are on the lookout for Redwanul Azad Rana, operations chief of Ansarullah Bangla, and cell leaders Nabir Hossain Nabin and Abdul Kabir alias Zaber.
With the murder of the fourth secular blogger, the death threats against online activists and bloggers are increasing. Within a week after blogger Niloy’s killing, at least 19 progressive activists reportedly received death threats.
Due to the insecurity faced by them, the recent efforts by the law enforcing agencies have done little to assure the bloggers and online activists of the country.
When Asia Times tried to contact some bloggers it had interviewed in the past, it learned that most had switched off their earlier sims and others were not reachable through the usual modes of communication.
Imran H Sarkar, spokesperson for Ganajagoron Moncho, an activist youth group of which bloggers Niloy and Das were active members, told Asia Times: “Bloggers are feeling more insecure now.” Sarkar mentioned that besides fearing machete attacks, bloggers are also scared of the police and of a stricter Information and Communication Technology (ICT) law that has been enacted to limit their activities.
The day after Niloy’s murder, Inspector General of Police AKM Shahidul Hoque said: “There will always be free thinkers. I have enough respect for them. But we need to
remember that hurting religious sentiments is a crime according to our law.”
Sarkar is also referring to the recent situation of journalist Probir Sikdar who was arrested on Sunday and placed on a three-day remand for expressing fears about his safety in a Facebook post. Sikdar had written that Rural Development and Cooperatives minister Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, business tycoon Moosa Bin Shahmsher and Bachchu Razkar and their followers would be responsible if anything happens to him.
When asked about the arrests Sarkar said: “We want to be hopeful but we have realized from past experience that arrests do not mean fair investigations and trials that will ensure justice.”
Sarkar noted as an example that immediately after Avijit Roy’s murder, a blogger named Farabi Shafiur Rahman had been arrested by the RAB based on earlier threats he had made to Roy. “Later, the police claimed that Farabi may not have been involved,” Sarkar recalled.
He also pointed to the murder of blogger Rajib Haider where one of the killers made a self confession. Haider was killed in a machete attack near his home on Feb. 15, 2013. “But even that case has not been resolved to date,” Sarkar said.
Sarkar says he hopes that law enforcement will carry out proper investigations that will lead to the arrests of the real masterminds behind the blogger murders.
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