Bangladesh police arrested five students of an elite private university yesterday on charges of murdering an anti-Islamist blogger whose death triggered nationwide turmoil.
The students allegedly confessed to hacking to death Ahmed Rajib Haider, 35, on Feb. 15 after he helped organize protests against leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party on trial for war crimes, police said.
“They targeted him because of his allegedly blasphemous writings against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad,” Dhaka police Deputy Commissioner Masudur Rahman said.
All five of the young men arrested are students of the prestigious North South University, Rahman said, Haider’s body was found with hatchet wounds to the head in what police said was an apparent attempt to behead him.
Haider’s brother, who asked not to be named, said his sibling — better known by his online identity Thaba Baba — had been “threatened frequently” by radicals angry at his role in the protests and his writings against the religion.
Protests encouraged by the country’s bloggers have seen thousands of people take to the streets demanding the execution of leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, on trial for crimes allegedly committed during the country’s 1971 independence war.
Radicals have in turn held demonstrations demanding the trails be halted, leading to clashes with police and scores killed.
Since Haider’s death Bangladesh’s radical parties have focused on other bloggers, calling nationwide strikes in protest and demanding the execution of those they accuse of blasphemy.
The government has blocked about a dozen websites and blogs to stem the violence, as well as stepping up security for the bloggers, some of whom claim to have been threatened by Jamaat student activists.
3 more killed
Meanwhile Bangladesh police yesterday opened fire at radicals protesting the conviction for war crimes of one of their leaders, killing three people outside the port city of Chittagong.
The deaths brought the total number killed since a war crimes tribunal delivered its first verdict on Jan. 21 to at least 56, according to police figures.
The number includes 40 who have died in the last three days, since Jamaat-e-Islami party vice president Delwar Hossain Sayedee was sentenced to death, police said.
Sayedee was found guilty on Thursday of murder, religious persecution and rape during the 1971 independence war, triggering violent clashes between rampaging Jamaat supporters and police across the country.
The 73-year-old firebrand preacher was the third person to be convicted by the war crimes tribunal, whose verdicts have been met by outrage from radicals.
The latest violence came a day after the United States called for calm in the impoverished South Asian nation.
“While engaging in a peaceful protest is a fundamental democratic right, we believe violence is never the answer,” US State Department deputy acting spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters in Washington.
But he stressed the United States believes “it is important to bring justice to those who have committed war crimes and atrocities” while ensuring that the trials be “free, fair, transparent.”
In the new clashes, police said they fired live rounds after hundreds of student activists of Jamaat barricaded a key highway and attacked officers with stones and sticks as they tried to clear the road.
“We were forced to open fire. Three people were killed in the clashes,” senior Chittagong police official Rabiul Islam said, adding 10 people, including policemen, were wounded.
The war crimes trials of a dozen Jamaat and main opposition Bangladesh