Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets of Dhaka to demand the capture and punishment of those responsible for the murder of a law student who criticised Islamism on his Facebook page. About 350 activists from the secular campaigning network Ganajagaran Mancha took part in the demonstration on Thursday after the killing of Nazimuddin Samad in the Bangladeshi capital on Wednesday night.
Samad, 28, had been on a hit list of 84 atheist bloggers that a group of radical Islamists drew up and sent to the Bangladesh interior ministry. His murder was the latest in a series of killings of secular activists and bloggers in the country.
Syed Nurul Islam, the deputy commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan police, told Agence France-Presse: “At least four assailants hacked Nazimuddin Samad’s head with a machete on Wednesday night. As he fell, one of them shot him with a pistol from close range. He died on the spot.
“It is a case of targeted killing. But no group has claimed responsibility.” He said police were looking into whether Samad was murdered for his writing.
The Dhaka Tribune said the assailants shouted Allahu Akbar (God is greatest) as they attacked Samad on a busy road near Jagannath University, where he was a law student.
On Thursday, the protesters urged the Bangladeshi authorities to take the killing seriously, accusing them of having fostered a culture of impunity in the past.
Last year, suspected militants hacked to death at least four atheist bloggers and a secular publisher in one of a series of targeted killings in the Muslim-majority country.
Police arrested members of a banned group called Ansarullah Bangla Team over those murders, but none has yet been prosecuted.
Maruf Rosul, one of the Ganajagaran Mancha activists, told the Guardian: “The government is creating impunity to all the offences by not bringing the perpetrators to book.
“Instead of pointing blame at different outfits, the government should identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”
Samad was known to have been critical of state religion in the Bangladeshi constitution. In the first two lines detailing his religious views on Facebook, he said: “Evolution is a scientific truth. Religion and race are [an] invention of the savage and uncivil people.”
Wafi Chowdhury, a schoolfriend of Samad, said: “Nazim had lived in hostels since grade six and later moved to a shared room after he joined university.”
Samad had deactivated his Facebook account about a month ago at the request of his family, but Chowdhury added: “I remember him telling me he would come back on Facebook soon with a grin.”
Shamir Chandra Sutradhar, an investigations officer at Sutrapur police in Dhaka, told the Guardian: “His stay in Dhaka has been only two months. He lived in Sylhet and most of his family members are in London.”
Tapan Chandra Saha, a police officer in charge of the Sutrapur area, said: “We have not been able to identify any suspect. Nazim was both hacked and shot. We have recovered bullet shells from the spot. He has been hacked on the right side of his head.”
Imran Sarker, who leads Bangladesh’s largest online secular activist group and is the head of the Bangladeshi bloggers association, said Samad had joined nationwide protests in 2013 against top Islamist leaders accused of committing war crimes during the country’s war of independence.
“He was a secular online activist and a loud voice against any social injustice. He was against Islamic fundamentalism,” Sarker said.
Amnesty International said the killing was a reminder that authorities in Bangladesh are failing to protect people exercising their right to freedom of expression.
“There can be no justification for the brutal killing of Nazimuddin Samad, who has apparently paid with his life for nothing but being brave enough to speak his mind,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty’s South Asia director. “This is not just a senseless murder, it is a blatant attack on the right to freedom of expression. The Bangladeshi authorities must categorically condemn these killings and take serious steps to end this horrific cycle of violence. Those responsible for the killings of secular activists must be held to account.”
Mustakur Rahman, 26, became friends with Samad after meeting him at college in Sylhet in 2007. Speaking on the phone from Birmingham, where he now lives, Rahman described his shock and disbelief at Samad’s death. “Everybody was very close [at college]. Suddenly we have lost a very close classmate and it is shocking. I can’t believe it just happened. It’s a loss for us. We lost our friend. His mum lost her child,” he said.
“I will remember him forever. He was my friend. I grew up with him. I had so many memories with him. He used to laugh very nicely. He was a very smiley guy. I’ve been remembering his smile.”
Rahman spoke of how Samad inspired him and his classmates to join the Bangladesh National Cadet Corps. Samad had been an active member, rising to the position of lance corporal.
Rahman said he had warned Samad about his social media posts, which were critical of Islamism and religion. “Whatever he posted, I would see as fun. But people are taking it seriously and taking revenge,” he said. “As a friend, I warned him about the posts, I don’t want anyone to die early. But he said he can’t change his opinion against any religion.
“He didn’t kill anyone. To me, he’s a good person. He didn’t do anything wrong. He wrote something about a particular religion. I’m a believer, but he wasn’t a believer and maybe he was trying to express what he thinks about religion. It is a free world, why should he be killed?
“So I’m very, very shocked. But in Bangladesh it is a common issue nowadays. So many atheists are being killed … For every single occasion, there is protest. But after there is nothing. There will be protest, we protest, we write on Facebook. But that’s it. No justice is coming out.”