A young blogger was hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants in the Bangladesh's capital Dhaka on Monday — the second such murder in just over a month and yet another case indicative of rising religious extremism in the South Asian nation.
Washiqur Rahman, 27, a secular writer known for openly criticizing Islamic fundamentalism, was attacked by three students in one of the sprawling city’s busiest areas.
Police caught two of the perpetrators on the spot with the weapons still in their possession, while a third reportedly escaped.
Monday’s killing bears eerie similarities to the murder of another blogger, Bangladeshi-American Avijit Roy, five weeks earlier. Roy died in late February after being attacked with machetes by two assailants while he was returning from a book fair in Dhaka with his wife.
The incident prompted widespread fear in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, and also criticism of the government for not doing enough to protect freedom of speech.
“We condemn the government’s failure to protect bloggers, especially those who cover or comment on religion, fundamental freedoms and extremism of all kinds,” Benjamin Ismail, head of the Asia-Pacific desk of media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, said in a statement.
The rising instances of violence against secular writers over the last few years — another writer Ahmed Rajib Haider was assassinated in 2013 — has many of the country’s online activists running scared. Omi Rahman Pial, another prominent blogger, told the New York Times that several of his colleagues may seek asylum outside Bangladesh. Several others are beginning to take down their blogs, another activist said.
“There is definitely a level of worry among the people who are involved in blogging and expressing themselves on social networks,” Mohammad Golam Rahman, a journalism professor at the University of Dhaka, and no relation of the murdered blogger, tells TIME.
While Rahman said sudden attacks of this nature can be difficult to prevent, he conceded that the government should be doing more to protect bloggers and ensure freedom of speech. Although Bangladesh is over 90% Muslim, he adds, those espousing an “extremist ideology” only form a “small segment” of the population.
“The general view and general psyche of the population is that they condemn these activities,” says Rahman.
However, many of the comments on the blogger Rahman’s Facebook page belie that notion. “I felt sorry when I first learned of your death. But then I saw what you wrote and I am not,” reads one, according to CNN.
“Get ready for the afterlife,” says another, while a third simply reads: “See you in hell.”
Abdullah Fahim, a business student at Dhaka's North South University, told the Times that 80% of Bangladeshis are probably against Rahman's writing. "I don't know why our government gave him the liberty to write against Islam," he said.