A well-known Bangladeshi American blogger has been hacked to death in Dhaka.
Atheist writer Avijit Roy, founder of Mukto-Mona (Free-mind) blog, was attacked as he was returning from a book fair in the Bangladeshi capital on Thursday afternoon.
The couple was dragged from a taxi before being hacked with machetes. Mr Roy’s wife Rafida Ahmed remains in a critical condition.
Mukto-Mona champions liberal, secular writing in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. Mr Roy’s family say that he had received a number of death threats from Islamists over the blog’s content.
Mr Roy is the second Bangladeshi blogger to have been murdered in two years and the fourth writer to have been attacked since 2004.
Hardline Islamist groups have long demanded the public execution of atheist bloggers and sought new laws to combat writing critical of Islam.
Mr Roy’s father sais the writer, who holds US citizenship, had received a number of threatening emails as well as messages on Twitter and Facebook from hardliners.
“He was a secular humanist and has written about ten books” including his most famous “Biswasher Virus” (Virus of Faith), his father Ajoy Roy told AFP.
The Center for Inquiry, a US-based charity promoting free thought, said it was “shocked and heartbroken” by the brutal murder of Roy.
“Dr Roy was a true ally, a courageous and eloquent defender of reason, science, and free expression, in a country where those values have been under heavy attack,” it said in a statement.
Roy’s killing also triggered strong condemnation from his fellow writers and publishers, who lamented the growing religious conservatism and intolerance in Bangladesh.
“The attack on Roy and his wife is outrageous. We strongly protest this attack and are deeply concerned about the safety of writers,” Imran H. Sarker, head of an association for bloggers in Bangladesh, told AFP.
Atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was hacked to death in 2013 by members of a little known Islamist militant group, triggering nationwide protests by tens of thousands of secular activists.
After Haider’s death, Bangladesh’s hardline Islamist groups started to protest against other campaigning bloggers, calling a series of nationwide strikes to demand their execution, accusing them of blasphemy.
The secular government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reacted by arresting some atheist bloggers.
The government also blocked about a dozen websites and blogs to stem the furore over blasphemy, as well as stepping up security for the bloggers.
Bangladesh is the world’s fourth-largest Muslim majority nation with Muslims making up some 90 per cent of the country’s 160 million people.
A tribunal has recently handed down a series of verdicts against leading Islamists and others for crimes committed during the war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.