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The brutal fight of Bangladesh’s secular voices to be heard

By Samira Shackle

Muni Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images

By Samira Shackle

In February 2015, Avijit Roy and his wife, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, travelled from their home in Atlanta, Georgia, to Dhaka, the capital Bangladesh. This was their home town, and they were attending the annual Ekushey book fair, which runs all month. They had been unable to attend in 2014 because Roy had received death threats after the publication of his book The Virus of Faith, which criticised religion.

The couple were familiar with controversy. They ran a Bengali-language web forum called Mukto-Mona, or Free Minds, promoting rationalist thought, and had been threatened by Islamic fundamentalists. During their trip to Dhaka, they avoided being out late at night, varied their routines and checked in regularly with relatives. For the first 10 days, the strategy seemed to work.

On 26 February, they attended a series of events at the University of Dhaka, where the book fair is held. They left in the evening, walking back to their car through a crowded and well-lit area. Suddenly, they were surrounded by a group of masked men with machetes. Ahmed doesn’t remember what happened next, as the knives rained down upon them. There were hundreds of people around, including police officers. They did not step in. After the attack, a young journalist intervened and drove them to the hospital. Ahmed survived, severely injured. It was too late for Roy, who died during the drive.


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