Around six years after the horrific incident that left the nation reeling from shock and fear, a Dhaka court on Tuesday sentenced five leaders and members of banned militant outfit Ansar al-Islam to death and one to life imprisonment for killing Avijit Roy, writer and founder of Mukto Mona blog.
Judge of Dhaka Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal Md Mujibur Rahman delivered the verdict, with four of the convicts on the dock over killing of Avijit Roy, who was hacked to death in the spate of 'blogger-killings' in 2015.
The court also fined each of the convicts Tk50,000.
The six convicts are sacked Bangladesh Army major Syed Ziaul Haque alias Major Zia; Abu Siddique Sohel; Mozammel Hossain; Arafat Rahman, Shafiur Rahman Farabi, and Akram Hossain.
Only Farabi was sentenced to life in jail. Two more years will be added to his jail term if he fails to pay the fine.
Of the six, Zia and Akram are still on the run.
It was the second verdict by this court against militants this month. On February 10, over five years after Dipon's murder, eight leaders and members of Ansar al-Islam – formerly known as Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) – were sentenced to death.
Avijit's assassination on February 26, 2015, was subsequently followed by the murders of several other bloggers, publishers, and freethinkers, including Dipon.
Last week, most of these militants were also awarded capital punishment for their involvement in the October 2015 murder of publisher Foisal Arefin Dipon.
Avijit, son of recently deceased physicist Ajoy Roy, was hacked to death by assailants with meat cleavers near TSC on the Dhaka University campus on the evening of 26 February in 2015, when he and his wife were returning home from the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela. His wife Banya sustained serious injuries in the attack.
Avijit's father then filed a murder case with Shahbagh Police Station the following day. The prosecution team expressed its satisfaction over the verdict. But the defence counsels said they would move to the High Court against the judgment.
Meanwhile, no one from the victim's family was present at the court while the verdict was pronounced.
Rafida Ahmed Bonya, the wife of slain blogger Avijit Roy, who was also brutally injured at the incident, has expressed discontent with the verdict.
In a facebook post from abroad, she wrote: "We got a verdict today after six years of confusion and delay."
Mentioning a few other incidents of extra-judicial killings, Bonya said, "Simply prosecuting a few foot-soldiers, ignoring the rise and roots of extremism, does not mean justice for Avi's death, nor for the deaths of the 'bloggers, publishers and homosexuals' killed before and after him as part of the serial killing."
"This verdict will not bring peace to my family or theirs," she said in the Facebook post on Tuesday.
However, Bonya alleged that not a single person investigating the case reached out to her in the last six years, though she is a direct witness and victim of the attack.
Regarding the allegation The Business Standard contacted the investigating agency Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit of DMP, but no one replied to the queries.
"In January, the state lawyer in the case publicly lied, saying that I did not agree to be a witness in the trial. The truth is, no one from Bangladesh's government or the prosecution has ever contacted me," Bpnya added.
Avijit, who was a bio-engineer, online activist and a naturalised US citizen, was hacked with machetes by several militants near the main entrance of Suhrawardy Udyan, adjacent to the TSC intersection at Dhaka University, around 8:30pm on February 26, 2015.
He died at Dhaka Medical College Hospital around 10:30pm.
Avijit's wife Rafida Ahmed Bonya was also severely wounded in the attack but survived. The couple was leaving the Amar Ekushey Book Fair when they came under attack.
The following day, Avijit's father and prominent educationist Prof Ajay Roy filed the murder case at Shahbagh police station.
Four years later, police filed a charge-sheet against the six in March 2019. The tribunal accepted it the next month. The trial started in August that year following the indictment of the accused.
During the trial, the court heard 28 prosecution witnesses, including Prof Ajay, who passed away on December 9, 2019.
According to court documents, police sources and confessional statements of the defendants, militants Mozammel, Akram and one Hasan were living at Elephant Road in Dhaka in 2015.
After the plan to kill Avijit in February that year was made, Akram and several others had recced the blogger's Dhaka home and followed his movement around the city for several days before they met with Zia. Zia then changed the plan and ordered them to kill Avijit at the book fair.
On February 26, 2015, Sohel, Akram, Mozammel and Hasan went to the book fair, followed Avijit, and then took position outside TSC, as per Zia's instructions. Mozammel then informed MukulRana, who was the then leader of Ansar al-Islam's operational branch.
Around 8:30pm, Avijit and his wife were going to TSC from the fair when four members of another team of the militant outfit, who were led by Rana and tasked to kill him, attacked them with machetes.
Zia was reportedly also present at the scene with others and helped the killers flee the scene.
Shafiur Rahman Farabi, a fundamentalist blogger, was arrested on March 2, 2015, two months after the murder, and charged with inciting Avijit's murder.
"Although Farabi was not directly involved in the attack, he has been charged with incitement as his writing provoked the attack," said a counterterrorism officer.
Avijit's murder had rocked the nation, leading to widespread protests around the country and drawing condemnation from abroad and international organizations.
Several months later, publisher Dipon, who owned Jagriti Prokashony, was similarly hacked to death in his Aziz Super Market office in October 2015.
Between and after the two murders, a series of attacks on writers, bloggers, publishers and online activists in Bangladesh had also taken place. Such brutal attacks on secular voices had left the nation shocked and reeling from panic.