Bangladesh police on Tuesday charged seven students of an elite university and a cleric over the murder of an allegedly atheist blogger who was critical of Islam and Islamic groups.
The students are accused of hacking to death Ahmed Rajib Haider, 35, near his home in Dhaka in February last year, days after he helped launch a campaign against Islamist leaders accused of war crimes.
Police also charged an imam from a Dhaka mosque with instigating the murder by allegedly preaching that it was legal to kill atheist bloggers who campaigned against Islam.
“They killed him for his blasphemous writings against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH),” Dhaka police deputy commissioner Masudur Rahman told AFP.
“The students used to go to the Mohammadpur mosque to listen to the sermons of the imam. They were inspired by his sermons to carry out the attack on the blogger,” he said.
The body of Haider, better known by his Bengali online identity Thaba Baba, was found with hatchet wounds to the head in what police said was an apparent attempt to behead him.
Six out of the seven men – all of whom are students of the prestigious and private North South University – and the imam have been arrested and are being held in jail, Rahman said.
Haider’s killing was the second attack in Dhaka against bloggers critical of Islam, after the stabbing of a self-styled “militant atheist” by three unidentified men in January last year.
After Haider’s death, Bangladesh’s Islamic parties 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 four bloggers including the “militant atheist” who was allegedly attacked by the same group of students accused of the murder.
The government also blocked about a dozen websites and blogs to stem the furor over blasphemy, as well as stepping up security for the bloggers.
A tribunal has handed down a series of verdicts against top Islamists and others for crimes committed during the war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.