Dhaka, Feb 19 (efe-epa)- Bangladesh’s hardline Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam on Friday demanded the release of extremists convicted earlier this week of killing liberal writer and blogger Avijit Roy, calling their trial “flawed.”
A local court had on Tuesday handed death sentence to five members of a banned Islamist outfit, linked to the Al Qaeda terror group, and life imprisonment to another for killing Roy in 2015.
American-Bangladeshi Roy was hacked to death on the campus of Dhaka University while returning from a book fair. His wife Rafida Ahmed was also injured in the attack.
In a statement, Hefazat-e-Islam spokesperson Azizul Haque Islamabadi demanded the revocation of the punishment handed out to the convicts, calling them “lovers of Prophet Muhammad.”
“Our strong demand to the government is revoking the sentence of Asheke Rasul (lovers of the Prophet) brothers and their release on bail since their involvement (in the killing) could not be proved by appropriate witnesses,” said the statement.
The six convicts, two of whom are on the run, are believed to be members of the Ansar al Islam insurgent group, which had claimed responsibility for the killing on social media.
In 2017, Bangladesh authorities had banned Ansar Al Islam, an offshoot of the Ansarullah Bangla Team, another group already banned in May 2015.
Hefazat said if the government had taken action against a blog run by Roy, which according to the group was “defaming” the Prophet, his killing could have been “avoided.”
The group referred to a statement by Roy’s wife Rafida – in which she had criticized the authorities for not inviting her to court to give a witness account – to call the trail “questionable.”
Hours after the verdict was announced, Rafida had issued the statement on her Facebook page, in which she also criticized Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for becoming “increasingly friendly with Hefazat-e-Islam.”
Hefazat – which describes itself as a non-political grouping of religious bodies – rose to prominence when thousands of students joined their rally in 2013 demanding criminal prosecution of atheists.
Other controversial demands of the group included the imposition of the death penalty for blasphemy and public mixing of the sexes.
The rally, which was largely seen as anti-government, came just a few months before the 2014 national elections and ended up in bloodshed – with at least 58 people killed – as the police forcefully evicted the group from Dhaka’s main commercial hub.
More than 70 people, including bloggers, thinkers, members of religious minorities, and foreigners, were killed in a series of targeted attacks in Bangladesh between 2013 and 2016. The government blamed local militant groups for the killings.
About 90 percent of Bangladesh’s 160 million people are Muslim, although the population has traditionally been labeled moderates. EFE-EPA