A court in Bangladesh has sentenced to death five members of an armed group for killing a US blogger critical of religious extremism six years ago. One man was sentenced to life in prison.
Avijit Roy, a US citizen of Bangladeshi origin, was hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants in February 2015 while returning home with his wife from a Dhaka book fair. His wife and fellow blogger Rafida Ahmed suffered head injuries and lost a finger.
Public Prosecutor Golam Sarwar Khan said the six men convicted on Tuesday belong to the al-Qaeda-inspired armed group Ansar Ullah Bangla Team, which police say was behind the murders of many secular activists and bloggers.
“Charges against them were proved beyond any doubt. The court gave them the highest punishment,” Khan said after the verdict amid tight security at the Special Anti-Terrorism Tribunal in the capital, Dhaka.
Syed Ziaul Haq, a sacked army major believed to be the leader of the group and who masterminded the killing, and one other member of the group were tried in absentia and received death sentences, Khan said.
Nazrul Islam, defence lawyer for the six men, said they would appeal the sentences in the higher court.
Bangladesh saw a string of deadly attacks between 2013 and 2016 targeting bloggers, secular activists and religious minorities, claimed by armed groups linked to the ISIL (ISIS) armed group or al-Qaeda.
Roy had founded a popular Bengali-language blog – Mukto-mona, or Free Mind – in which articles on scientific reasoning and religious extremism featured prominently.
The most serious attack came in July 2016, when gunmen stormed a cafe in the diplomatic quarter of Dhaka and killed 22 people.
After the cafe siege, more than 100 suspected armed group members were killed and hundreds more were arrested as the government cracked down on such groups to preserve its image as a moderate Muslim nation.
In November 2019, seven people were sentenced to death for the deadly siege in Dhaka.