A Bangladesh court on Thursday sentenced two men to death for the murder of an atheist blogger in 2013, the first time anyone has been punished after a series of such killings.
A total of eight people were convicted by the fast-track court in Dhaka of involvement in the slaying of Ahmed Rajib Haider, an architect who had campaigned against the Jamaat-e-Islami party which opposed Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in 1971.
Besides the two former students of a prominent private university who were given the death sentence, judge Sayeed Ahmed sentenced another student to life in prison and gave a leader of the banned Ansarullah Bangla group a five-year jail term.
He sentenced three more students to 10 years in jail and another to three years in jail.
Haider was hacked to death by machete-wielding attackers in February 2013 near his home in Dhaka’s Mirpur area. Five more secular bloggers and a publisher were killed this year, triggering claims by activists that the government is not doing enough to protect secular writers.
One of the two students given the death sentence is on the run and he was tried and sentenced in absentia.
All the convicted students said they were radicalised by the sermons of Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani, a former imam of a mosque in Dhaka’s Mohammadpur area. He is known to be the head of the banned Ansarullah Bangla.
The former students of North South University also said they were inspired by Rahmani to kill Haider.
The prosecution said the students had told investigators that Rahmani incited them to kill Haider in his sermons, saying all atheist bloggers should be killed in the service of Islam.
Seven of the convicts, including Rahmani, were present in the dock when the judge delivered the verdict. They were calm inside the courtroom as the judgement was read out just after midday on Thursday.
Haider had criticised the Prophet Mohammed and Islam in his blog. He demanded that the authorities should ban the Jamaat-e-Islami for its alleged involvement in genocide in 1971.
The blogger’s father rejected the verdict and said the defendants should all have been given the death sentence.
The judge said Faisal bin Nayeem, one of those given the death sentence, had hacked Haider with a meat cleaver in front of his home in Dhaka when he was returning from a rally demanding capital punishment for a Jamaat-e-Islami leader accused of crimes against humanity in 1971.
The judge said Redwanul Azad Rana, who is on the run, was the mastermind of the killing and Maksudul Hasan Anik, who got a life term, had abetted the others.