South Asia

Leftist Publisher Shot Dead as Blogger Deaths Return to Haunt Bangladesh

Shahzahan Bachchu, 60, was dragged out of a shop in his ancestral village by assailants and shot dead.

New Delhi: Over the past few years, Bangladesh has proven to be deadly for bloggers and online activists. In the latest incident on June 11, after a brief lull in the violence, unidentified assailants shot dead a prominent writer and publisher in central Bangladesh’s Munshiganj district.

Shahzahan Bachchu, 60, was the owner of Bishaka Prokashoni, a publishing house that specialised in poetry, and the acting editor of weekly Amader Bikrampur. His publishing house is based in Dhaka’s Banglabazar area.

According to the Dhaka Tribune, Shahzahan had gone to meet friends at a pharmacy near his home in his ancestral village of Kakaldi before Iftar, “when the assailants came into the area. They blasted a crude bomb outside the pharmacy, creating panic. They then dragged Shahzahan out and shot him”, a senior superintendent of police was quoted as saying by the daily.

Although no group has claimed responsibility, the police has said that the counter-terrorism department is investigating the murder as a possible targeted attack by Islamist extremists.

Known to be a free-thinking writer who encouraged creativity and healthy dissent, Bachchu had previously received threats for his outspoken manner.

The International Federation of Journalists has demanded that immediate action be taken to arrest and punish those responsible for the murder.

Anthony Bellanger, the general secretary of IFJ said: “The IFJ is deeply saddened by the the cold-blooded murder of blogger and publisher Shahjahan Bachchu. Such attacks on writers and publishers in full public view have a chilling effect on freedom of expression are a stark reminder of the lack of security for journalists and writers.”

Bachchu’s death is the latest in a string of murders that have shaken Bangladesh and the international community. It began in February 2015, when atheist writer and blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death as he was walking him with his wife after attending a book fair in Dhaka. The very same year in October, Roy’s publisher Faisal Arefin Deepan was also hacked to death at his office in central Dhaka.

Earlier, on the very same day that Deepan was killed, publisher Ahmed Rahim Tutul was attacked in the office of the Shudhdhoswar publishing house and seriously wounded. Two writers were also wounded.

Then in April 2016, 28-year-old Nazimuddin Samad was brutally killed in public view in the the crowded Sutrapur area by militants chanting “Allahu Akbar”.

“The shocking news today of Shahzahan Bachchu’s murder is a grim reminder that the severe threat to individuals who express dissident views in Bangladesh remains unacceptably high,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of the Free Expression at Risk Programme at PEN America.