Bangladesh police have charged five people over the murder of an atheist blogger, one of four secular writers hacked to death this year over writings criticising conservative religious groups.
Police brought the charges, the first in any of the four murders, in a Dhaka magistrates court on Tuesday, which will now decide whether to open a trial or order further investigations.
“We’ve submitted a charge sheet against five people for the murder of blogger Washiqur Rahman. The five were charged with murder,” Dhaka police spokesman Muntashirul Islam told the AFP news agency.
“They include an organiser of the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) and four others who are its supporters,” he said, referring to a banned local group which police have blamed in all four murders.
Washiqur Rahman, 27, who wrote under a pen name on Facebook against religious conservatives, was killed near his home in Dhaka in March.
Two of the suspects, students of a madrassa, were tackled by local transgenders – known as hijras in the sub-continent – as they tried to flee the scene. They held them until police made arrests.
Rahman’s death came just weeks after a Bangladesh-born American atheist blogger was also murdered in the Bangladeshi capital by machete-wielding attackers.
“The organiser of ABT, Hasibur Rahman, also known as Abdullah, recruited the other four and trained them for nearly three months for the specific purpose of murdering Washiqur,” said additional deputy police commissioner Saiful Islam.
“They rented a room in Dhaka’s Jatrabari neighbourhood for this purpose and carried out reconnaissance on Rahman for two days before the murder,” he said, adding three of the alleged killers were arrested by police, while Abdullah had absconded and the fifth was still at large.
The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has come under fire for not doing enough to protect atheist and rationalist writers.
In August, police arrested seven suspects, including a British citizen of Bangladeshi origin, for the murder of two other atheist bloggers.
Witnesses have told Al Jazeera that the British man, who counterterrorism officials in Bangladesh said had confessed to planning the murders of the two bloggers, was not detained on the day claimed by the police, and had already been detained nearly three months before.