By Kamran Reza Chowdhury
A tribunal in Bangladesh on Wednesday sentenced to death eight members of an al-Qaeda-linked militant group after finding them guilty of killing publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan in 2015, in one of a string of gruesome murders of secular intellectuals in the South Asian country.
Dipan, killed in broad daylight by machete-wielding extremists at his workplace, printed the secular and science writings of slain American-Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, among others.
Dipan’s murder was premeditated and he was killed for publishing Roy’s books, as part of an effort to destroy secular Bangladesh, noted anti-terrorism tribunal judge Mojibur Rahman.
“Those who kill people for publishing books are the enemies of the society and the state. They do not deserve sympathy,” Rahman said in his observations before pronouncing the verdict.
“Only the maximum capital punishment will guarantee fair justice, and it will be an exemplary punishment,” he said.
Rahman delivered his guilty verdict and sentence Wednesday in a packed courtroom amid tight police protection.
Six of the eight defendants were present, wearing helmets and bulletproof vests. They appeared unfazed as they left the courtroom after the verdict.
Two other convicts – Akram Hossain and former major Syed Ziaul Haque, the alleged chief of Ansar al-Islam – were said to be on the run. The court ordered the police to arrest them, although investigators told BenarNews in 2019 that they are not sure whether the notorious “Major Zia” – blamed for multiple terror attacks in the country – is still alive.
The six other convicts – Moinul Hassan Shamim alias Samir, Abdur Sabur Samad, Khairul Islam, Abu Siddique Sohel, Mozammel Hussain and Sheikh Abdullah – were arrested in 2016.
The al-Qaeda linked militant group has been held responsible by the authorities for planning the killings of secular bloggers, writers, publishers, gay rights activists and others in the last decade.
Dipan was hacked to death on Oct. 31, 2015, in his Jagriti Prokashani publishing house office in Dhaka’s Aziz Supermarket, which is a center for secular writers, publishers, poets, bloggers and journalists.
About an hour before Dipan’s murder, another group of alleged Ansar al-Islam members attacked Ahmedur Rashid Tutul, proprietor of Dhaka’s Shuddhashar publishing house, and two of his blogger friends, Ranadipam Basu and Tareq Rahim, with machetes. All three survived but were seriously injured.
Like Jagriti, Shuddhashar, too, had published Bangladeshi American Roy’s books, which militants said were anti-Islam.
Roy was hacked to death on Feb. 26, 2015, allegedly by Ansar al-Islam militants, as he was leaving Dhaka’s annual Ekushey Book Fair.
Men accused of killing him are scheduled to hear a verdict against them next week.
‘Happy about the verdict’
There is no doubt that the militants sentenced on Wednesday were linked to Dipan’s murder, said public prosecutor Golam Sarwar Khan Zakir.
“All of the convicts had links with the murder beyond doubt. Some of them made the plan, some of them provided money and arms, some of them cased Dipan’s office and some supervised the execution of the murder,” Zakir told BenarNews.
“All of these activities are serious offenses under the Anti-Terrorism Act. So the court has handed them the maximum punishment of a death sentence. We are happy about the verdict.”
But defense lawyer Khairul Islam Liton said he and his team were unhappy with the verdict.
“The investigation officer has not been able to find the real killers of Dipan,” Liton told BenarNews.
“These people were picked up by the police, who extracted a confessional statement from them and prosecuted them as members of ABT. We will appeal against the verdict,” he said, referring to Ansar al-Islam by its other name, Ansarullah Bangla Team.
According to Bangladesh law, the eight convicts have the right to appeal at the High Court, and then the Supreme Court. If both appeals are rejected, and the president declines to pardon them, the convicts will be executed.
Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque, Dipan’s father, said he felt justice had been done.
“When Dipan was killed, there was a sense among the common people that we would not get justice. But finally we got justice, though Dipan will never come back,” Kashem told BenarNews.
“If trials of other killings take place, people will now trust the rule of law.”
Dipan’s widow Razia Rahman Jolly broke down upon hearing the judgment.
“The two absconding militants must be caught and the judgment must be executed,” she said.