News has broken tonight that freethinking writer Avijit Roy has been murdered in a machete attack at the Dhaka international book fair.
Known proudly and affectionately by fellow freethought bloggers as “the Richard Dawkins of Bangladesh”, Roy had been on a visit back to Bangladesh from the United States to launch a new book. He had been repeatedly accused and threatened over claims that his writings on reason, freethought and humanism were “blasphemous” or “defamed religion”.
Another prominent Bangladeshi writer and activist, Asif Mohiuddin, who was arrested in 2013 for supposedly “insulting religion”, spoke tonight of Avijit Roy as a close friend and vital supporter:
“He was like my brother. This a great loss for the nation, and for all freethinkers in the world. We called him Richard Dawkins of Bangladesh. He was the nicest person I ever met. Just yesterday he wished me well on my birthday, today he is dead. I can’t believe this! He was my dearest friend and we worked together for 6 years against religious fundamentalism.
He was my hero, and hero of many young freethinkers in Bangladesh. Many young people were inspired by him so much. Now we have a big atheist and agnostic community, gay and lesbian community, that was possible only because of him. He was our support in every step. Whenever we had any problem, he solved that very quickly.
I am very much upset. Please do something, create some pressure on Bangladesh government by writing. Many freethinkers are in risk, they will die.”
Our coalition partners Center for Inquiry (CFI) in the United States, who had worked with Avijit Roy for some years, said in a statement:
“We at the Center for Inquiry are shocked and heartbroken by the brutal murder of our friend Dr. Avijit Roy in Bangladesh, it is speculated at the hands of Islamic militants. Dr. Roy was a true ally, a courageous and eloquent defender of reason, science, and free expression, in a country where those values have been under heavy attack.
… “I cannot overstate how great a loss this is,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s chief UN representative and friend of Dr. Roy. “Avijit was brilliant, yes, and a devoted advocate of free expression and secularism, but also just a very good person. Avijit was an inspiration to countless other freethinkers, in Bangladesh and around the world, and he was an inspiration to me. I valued our friendship deeply, as I valued his contributions to our shared mission. I will miss him, and the global freethought community will feel the impact of his loss. His example will no doubt continue to shine.””
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) statement says:
“This loss is keenly felt by freethinkers and humanists in South Asia and around the world. He was a colleague in humanism and a friend to all who respect human rights, freedom, and the light of reason. Our thoughts are with his family, and his many friends, supporters, and admirers who will be deeply hurt by this senseless crime.”
IHEU has republished emails in which Avijit Roy expressed concerns about death threats he had received, and both IHEU and CFI have urged the authorities to act for justice after years of reluctance to move against Islamist activists. In the IHEU’s words:
“We cannot know the assailants who carried out tonight’s vicious murder. But we do know this: Those who have openly made the most serious and credible threats on Roy’s life have been allowed to do so with impunity and now he is dead. As Roy himself warned, Bangladesh is appeasing the most insidious and violent strains of Islamism, and he new his own life was under threat. That appeasement of theocratic demands and naked threats must end, now.”
Doubtless all partners in this International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws would similarly condemn this horrific attack on freedom of thought and expression. Avijit Roy worked hard to give a voice to reason and to secular, democratic principles.