Five men were sentenced to death today in Bangladesh for the murder of Dr. Avijit Roy, the atheist author who was hacked to death in February of 2015 as he and his wife were returning home from a book fair in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (She survived.) That murder was the first in a series of attacks against people who criticized religion or assisted with the publication of such material.
Today’s ruling comes one week after eight other men were sentenced to death for killing the publisher of atheist books.
“Charges against them were proved beyond any doubt. The court gave them the highest punishment,” the public prosecutor Golam Sarwar Khan said after the verdict, amid tight security at the Special Anti-Terrorism Tribunal in the capital, Dhaka.
The court also jailed one man for life in the attack, Mr. Khan said.
He said the six men convicted on Tuesday belong to the al Qaeda-inspired domestic militant group Ansar Ullah Bangla Team, which the police say was behind the murders of more than a dozen secular activists and bloggers.
These aren’t even all the men involved. In 2016, police shot and killed the alleged assailant, but 11 other suspects were still at large. It wasn’t until 2019 that the six in question were named as accomplices and charged with the murder. (The other five have not yet been identified.)
Two of the men who were sentenced to death have not even been been located yet. They were tried in absentia.
So is this sentencing a good thing? Not necessarily. As I said last week, Islamic terrorists don’t fear death; it just makes them martyrs for the cause. Also, as someone who’s opposed to the death penalty on principle, this punishment will likely not have any kind of deterrent effect.
Even Bonya Ahmed, Roy’s wife who survived the attack, said the sentencing was “not a closure for me or our family“:
In six years, not one person investigating the case in Bangladesh reached out to me — though I am a direct witness and victim of the attack. In January, the state lawyer in the case publicly lied, saying that I did not agree to be a witness in the trial. The truth is, no one from Bangladesh’s government or the prosecution has ever contacted me.
Bangladesh’s government has become more autocratic since we were attacked. Freedom of speech has been restricted further, secular writers, bloggers, activists were forced to leave the country during and after 2015, a harsher Digital Security Act has been enacted, bloggers, writers, publishers have been persecuted for their writings on a regular basis. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister is increasingly friendly with Hefazat-e-Islam, the Islamist group of madrassah teachers and students that demanded “the heads” of secular writers and bloggers in 2014.
Simply prosecuting a few footsoldiers — and ignoring the rise and roots of extremism — does not mean justice for Avi’s death, nor for the deaths of the‘bloggers, publishers and homosexuals’ before and after him as part of the serial killing. That’s why this verdict will not bring peace to my family or theirs.
She makes an important point: If the root causes of this problem aren’t addressed — and freedom of thought doesn’t become a part of the culture and the people who fund and organize these attacks aren’t prosecuted — this sentencing is merely a bandage.