In what now appears to be a coordinated attack, at least one person has been killed and three people have been injured, in two attacks on publishing houses in Dhaka, Bangladesh this afternoon.
First, three men, all secular bloggers, one also a publisher and another also a poet, were attacked at Shuddho-Shor, a publishing house for progressive and secular books in the Lalmatia neighborhood of Dhaka. The attackers were armed with machetes and firearms, and it is likely the publisher Ahmed Rashid Tutul, who had received direct death threats from Islamists unhappy with output, was the primary target. The six or so attackers appear to have tricked their way in representing themselves as book-buyers.
Second, this was followed by a further attack against Jagriti publishing house in the Shahbag neighborhood. The publisher Faysal Arefin Dipon is reported to have been killed. Jagriti publishes on a broad range of topics, and had published Avijit Roy’s Philosophy of Disbelief, first published by Shuddho-Shor.
Those attacked at Shuddho-Shor were rushed to hospital. Tareq Rahim, the poet, is the most critically injured from the Shuddho-Shor attack, according to accounts from the hospital. The publisher Ahmed Rashid Tutul may also be in critical condition. Ranadipam Basu posted to his Facebook immediately after the attack, confirming he is alive and breaking the news.
The attacks today by at least one group of armed assailants armed with machetes and firearms, appears to conform to a string of recent murders targeting secular writers, always with machetes or cleavers, which in 2015 has taken four lives: Avijit Roy in February, Washiqur Rahman in March, Ananta Bijoy Das in May, and Niladri Chatterjee (aka Niloy Neel) in August. In 2013, blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was hacked to death, and blogger Asif Mohiuddin was similarly attacked, but survived, and was then arrested over his atheist writing.
Ahmed Rashid Tutul is the courageous publisher of books including the works of murdered author on science and Humanism, Avijit Roy. The publishing house, Shuddho-Shor (শুদ্ধস্বর), meaning “Pure Voice”, is popular among progressive, secular writers and readers, and has continued to publish despite receiving numerous direct threats against the lives of those working there.
On the night that Avijit Roy was murdered, Ahmed Rashid Tutul hosted a book publication ceremony with Avijit Roy and a number of others in front of the Shuddo-Shor stall at the annual book fair that takes place in Dhaka, Capital of Bangladesh.
Ahmed has been working on new books to be published at next year’s book fair, including a book on atheism.
Fellow secular blogger Arif Rahman, comments: “Ahmed is fearless in a sense, when Bangladesh is consistently sliding down the path of religious fanaticism, Government itself was banning books, he is hell bent on continuing to publish progressive and secular books. In the toxic and fearful atmosphere of curbed freedom of speech, his efforts in keeping the free thought alive is cherished and loved by so many! … When his peers in publishing industry was afraid to publish books that could potentially ‘harm religious sentiment’, Ahmed continues to push the envelope and thereby helping to keep the dying candle of free speech in Bangladesh.”
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has repeatedly criticised police and officials’ handling of the string of attacks, and in August organised alongside a number of secular Bangladeshi writers and academics a mass joint letter of protest to the Bangladesh Government.
IHEU Director of Communications, Bob Churchill, comments: “We know what comes next because we’ve seen it before. In a few weeks or months, police and media will perform a merry dance, arresting and parading a few different groups or individuals detained in connection with the latest attack. They’ll parade someone for the cameras. Then there will be no trial, no true justice. And the same thing will happen again and again.
“How many more times must we see these bloody and callous acts of hatred before the authorities wake up to the true problem. Officials must stop threatening to arrest, and stop blaming atheists themselves for writing books and blogs. To victim-blame them will continue to empower the fundamentalist killers and undermine the very basis of secular democracy itself.
“Though there are many similarities with earlier outrages, today’s coordinated attacks may represent a significant emboldening and an up-step in the campaign to terrorize and silence the voices of humanists, atheists and secularists. The Bangaldeshi authorities must now accept that their appeasement of fundamentalist violence is not working, and is costing life after life.”
Note: this story was updated during the day as new information became available.