In early 2013, there was a clash in Bangladesh over the writing of atheist bloggers that left at least two people dead, including blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider.
The country’s 12 Islamic parties called the protests after Friday prayers in nearly half a million mosques nationwide, demanding the execution of bloggers whom they say blasphemed Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.
Tensions have risen in the Muslim-majority nation over allegedly anti-Islamic blog posts by Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was hacked to death last week near his home in Dhaka.
In recent weeks Haider and fellow bloggers had launched huge protests demanding a ban on the largest Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, and the execution of its leaders for alleged war crimes in the 1971 independence conflict with Pakistan.
Since Haider’s death, Bangladeshi social media has been flooded with his alleged blog posts and with those by other bloggers mocking Islam, triggering protests by a number of Islamic groups and clerics.
A year later, seven students and a cleric were actually charged with the crime — which surprised me since those who react to perceived blasphemy with violence seem to be given medals of honor these days.
Perhaps even more surprising is that those eight were indicted by a Bangladeshi court today:
The indictments mean a trial will begin for Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani, head of the Ansarullah Bangla Team, and six students at North South University who earlier confessed involvement in the killing. A seventh student said to have planned the attack is in hiding. All of the students were suspended by the university after their arrests.
Despite their earlier confessions, Rahmani and the six students pleaded not guilty on Wednesday. The judge set April 21 for the start of the trial, and the seventh student will be tried in absentia.
All eight face the death penalty if convicted.
I want to believe there will be justice, but this is a country where atheists still have to live in fear. If critics of faith are considered as treacherous as those who murder them, what hope can we possibly have?
(Portions of this article were published earlier)