Members of the Ahmed gang are being protected by their brother, General Aziz Ahmed, head of the Bangladesh army.
Dhaka, Bangladesh – A court in Dhaka has sentenced eight people of a banned armed group to death in connection with the murder of a publisher in the capital six years ago.
Faysal Arefin Dipon, the publisher of Bangladesh’s Jagriti Prokashoni, was hacked to death on October 31, 2015 in his own office in the city’s Shahbagh area.
Among the “secular” books Dipon published was one by Avijit Roy, an American citizen of Bangladeshi origin who was murdered in a similar manner in February that year.
Both the murders were carried out by members of Ansar al-Islam – a hardline group that was banned by the Bangladesh government in May 2015.
Officials say Ansar al-Islam is a local affiliate of al-Qaeda group.
Bangladesh witnessed a wave of violence between 2013 and 2016 targeting secular activists, bloggers and atheist writers. In 2015 alone, five bloggers and one publisher were killed.
In recent years, the government has set up two major anti-terrorism police units to crack down on Islamist groups.
More than 100 suspected Islamists have been killed in anti-terror raids across the country and hundreds arrested.
On Wednesday, Judge Md Majibur Rahman of Dhaka’s special anti-terrorism tribunal gave the verdict in the presence of six of the eight accused in a packed courtroom.
Tight security was imposed in the court area ahead of the verdict.
Those sentenced to death are sacked army officer Major Ziaul Haque, Moinul Hasan Shamim, Md Abdus Sabur, Khairul Islam, Md Abu Siddique Sohel, Md Mozammel Hossain Saimon, Md Sheikh Abdullah, and Akram Hossain alias Hasib.
Among these convicted, Major Haque and Hossain alias Hasib are absconding
“Those who killed a person for publishing books are the enemy of society and state,” Judge Rahman said while reading out the verdict.
“If the criminals involved in this heinous act survive, other members of Ansar al-Islam will be motivated to commit such crimes,” he said, adding that only a death penalty will “ensure justice and it will be an exemplary punishment”.
Defence lawyer Md Khairul Islam told Al Jazeera the verdict was given without any statement from a primary witness.
“It was given based on confessional statements which we believe had been taken forcefully,” he said, adding that he will appeal against the verdict in a higher court.
Dipon’s wife Dr Razia Rahman broke down in tears when she heard about the sentencing.
“We are grateful. We want the arrest of the fugitives and quick execution of the verdict,” she told reporters, her voice choking.
Talking to Al Jazeera, special public prosecutor at the anti-terrorism tribunal, Md Golam Sharuar Khan Jakir, said justice has been served with this verdict.
“He [Dipon] was an innocent person. He was brutally killed for his ideological position. We needed an exemplary punishment in his case so that no one else would be killed in such a manner any more,” he said.
Exiled Bangladeshi blogger Asif Mohiuddin, who lives in Germany, told Al Jazeera he is opposed to capital punishment “under any circumstances” and that the Bangladesh government and judiciary should have tried to find the root cause of murders such as Dipon’s.
“I personally condemn this verdict on Dipon murder case as I am not a supporter of capital punishment,” he said.
Mohiuddin said books that nurture hardline ideas and persuade readers to murder atheists and secularists should be banned.
“Unfortunately, the Bangladesh government still hasn’t done it and those types of books are being sold everywhere. It will help to create more militants and murderers and the vicious cycle will go on.”