People were today gathering at the spot where Avijit was ambushed and hacked to death

The killing of writer Avijit Roy is another needless waypoint in Bangladesh’s struggle to cultivate tolerance. It is only appropriate to state the problem in such general terms, before any meaningful headway has been made in the investigation into his death on February 27, shortly after he and his wife exited the Bangla Academy premises, having attended the penultimate evening of Boi Mela. An abject security failure, given the heavy police presence in the entire area, the finger of blame has settled on religious extremists, Roy’s erstwhile opponents from the blogosphere. The police have nabbed one of them, Farabi Shafiur Rahman, who seems to have developed a habit of issuing online threats against all kinds of people, including an imam for administering the janaza (Islamic last rites) of blogger Rajib Haider, killed at the height of 2013’s Shahbagh movement. Whether Farabi is actually possessed of the capability to back up his threats though, is another matter. He has been jailed before, but let off due to lack of any evidence to support such a suspicion. It’s difficult to see why the outcome may differ this time.

For now, the police needed an arrest to deal with the outrage that followed in the wake of Roy’s death. It came in from all directions, and kicked up quite a storm (somewhat disingenuously, in some cases) in the international media – cannon fodder that it was for the general narrative of Islamist extremism worldwide. Roy holding dual American-Bangladeshi citizenship also played a part in drawing international attention. Typical headlines read: “American blogger hacked to death in Dhaka street” (from the Guardian, UK’s online version on 28 February, 2015).

People are reminded of how to this day, law enforcement has failed to make any meaningful headway on the question of who actually killed Rajib Haider as well, even though the easy conclusion that so-called religious fundamentalists were the perpetrators has been effectively draped over the matter, overshadowing another failure for the trigger-happy police force. When it comes to actually finding out anything, through investigation and inquiry, the ineptitude of the same force is glaring. In this case as well, apart from arresting Farabi, investigators have come across as not just clueless, but what is even stranger is the lack of urgency, a reluctance almost. Why aren’t witnessed being called, when it is known that the killing took place in almost plain view of many bystanders. The media has interviewed several of these people to arrive at a narration-of-best-fit for the gruesome incident. It is true that none has been helpful in identifying or even describing the alleged perpetrators. They come across as figures who emerged from the dark of the night, and once their job was done, disappeared as easily back into it. But aren’t police questioning techniques designed to help witnesses reveal more than journalists can ever manage?

The Thursday night attack on Roy, an engineer by profession and the son of prominent physicist Ajoy Roy, occurred along a crowded stretch of sidewalk near the TSC of Dhaka University, as he and his wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonnya, were returning from Boi Mela on a rickshaw. As they approached the spot where Roy’s body eventually lay in a pool of blood, several attackers, came out of nowhere and forced the rickshaw to stop, before dragging down the hapless couple.  Ahmed was severely injured in the attack, including the loss of a finger. The local police chief, Sirajul Islam, told the media that the assailants used cleavers.

“Several attackers took part in the attack and at least two assailants hit them directly,” Islam said, adding that two blood-stained cleavers were found after the attack.

The wishful terrorist

As far as we are aware though, even the rickshawpuller was not hauled up for questioning. The killing took place amid tight police security, and yet the killers easily escaped. It can be difficult to prevent a planned murder, but as Avijit’s father says, “Maybe the police couldn’t have prevented my son being killed, but they could have caught the killers instead of just standing there like puppets.” Eventually, RAB arrested Farabi, whose online profile paints a very disagreeable and narrow mind, but hardly anything on record would suggest he could plan or execute the kind of murder that took place on that fateful evening.

“Avijit’s father mentioned Rahman’s name as he had threatened to kill his son several times,” Commander Mufti Mahmud Khan, director at Legal and Media Wing of RAB said.

“A year ago Rahman threatened to kill Avijit Roy, one of the founder moderators of a popular blog Mukto-Mona,” he added.

On January 25 last year, Rahman’s Facebook status read, “It’s a holy duty of Bangalee (sic) Muslims to kill Avijit.”

Then on February 9, 2014, he commented on a Facebook post: “Avijit Roy cannot be killed now as he lives in America.” A court on Tuesday remanded Rahman in custody for 10 days for questioning.

“He has confessed that he threatened Avijit Roy. Intense interrogation of Farabi could lead to important clues,” Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Monirul Islam said.

Truth be told, most of these appear to be indignant pronouncements from the more aggrieved party at the end of some childish spat between playground bullies. Besides, it does seem strange to announce such nefarious plans openly in a Facebook status or comment (not even in private messages mind you), if you’re really planning to carry it through to fruition.

Farabi labelled both Rajeeb and Avijit as atheists. He threatened the imam as he had administered the funeral prayers of Rajeeb. RAB, which arrested Farabi on March 2, said he had been involved with banned outfit Hizb ut-Tahrir since 2010. Hailing from Brahmanbaria, Farabi completed SSC from Kendua Joyhori High School in Netrakona, and passed HSC from Notre Dame College in Dhaka. He got admitted to the Chittagong University to study physics in the 2005-06 session.

Police first arrested him in 2010, RAB said. During his ‘stint’ as an extremist, Farabi also threatened Editor Naeem Nizam of the daily Bangladesh Protidin for publishing columns of exiled writer Taslima Nasreen and Rokomari.com chief Mahmudul Hasan Sohagh for selling books of Avijit. After his arrest on February 23, 2013 for threatening the imam, Farabi was sent to Kashimpur High Security Jail. He stayed there until August 21 the same year before coming out on bail, according to Dhaka Tribune.

A screw or two loose perhaps, but the profile of a professional killer he’s not. Extremism has always been the preserve of the vulnerable and insecure. Farabi’s loud pronouncements and assiduously cultivated profile on social networks (where he commands thousands of ‘followers’) fits the bill. If anything, arrest and suffering for his stated ‘cause’ will only help him with his need for a veneer of self-esteem, he would like nothing better than to die a ‘martyr’. If something connecting him to the killing is indeed found, then by all means prosecute him, but at the moment, he seems to be the local law enforcement agencies’ only bet. And that doesn’t really inspire the confidence that justice will indeed be served in the case of Avijit Roy.

New heads, please

That’s why it came as good news when it was announced and confirmed that the FBI would be lending a helping hand to the local forces, even if their track record in previous involvements is no reason to be optimistic. The decision to send an FBI team came after the Bangladesh government accepted America’s offer to engage them in the investigation process.

“The FBI will deploy a small team to Bangladesh shortly to assist and collaborate with Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies to investigate the homicide,” said Monica Shie, US embassy spokesperson in Dhaka.

The FBI would be able “to provide technical assistance with regard to transnational aspects of the investigation.”

Make of that what you will.  It is interesting though, that most international observers, besides noting the security lapses, latched onto the generally shrinking space for independent and varied thinking in Bangladesh. Anyone resident here would be lying to disagree. It has been happening for some time now, and although one may argue we never attained much of a space for it in the first place, today the walls are visibly closing in still. The very first thought that crosses the mind is of the state’s repression, which is plainly present, but it is equally disturbing that private individuals may take it upon themselves to murder someone – when it’s all said and done, for losing an argument.

Yet another marker of the intolerance that reigns amongst the populace, as we blindly swear allegiance to political parties that don’t become us, only grow more distant. An intolerance that is almost unique in how much of it derives from what should merely be agreeable disagreements. No racial divide, or ethnic conflict (in fact we’re remarkably homogeneous as a people, despite CHT). No sectarian tension. Just differences of opinion. That’s all it took, to blight the dream of a nation.

Source: Dhaka Courier