About 1,000 Bangladeshi authors and teachers marched through the streets of the capital, Dhaka, on Tuesday, asserting their right to free speech days after a hard-line religious group attacked writers and publishers critical of fundamentalist beliefs and its impact on secular society.
Bangladesh is in the throes of a violent struggle between groups bent on turning the Muslim-majority nation into one based on their interpretation of Islamic law, on the one hand, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, determined to root out violent ideologies, on the other.
On Saturday men hacked a publisher to death in his office in Dhaka, hours after similar attacks on two writers and another publisher.
Despite the climate of fear caused by the attacks that follow the killings of four secularist bloggers this year, writers turned out in large numbers for the rally in Dhaka.
"No one is safe. First they killed bloggers. Now they are targeting publishers. Soon they will attack anyone who is progressive-minded," said Khaledur Rahman, an author who is facing death threats.
A branch of Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks, but police said they have not been able to verify that claim.
Police joint commissioner Monirul Islam said investigators were looking closely at a home-grown group, Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), because the latest attacks bore the hallmarks of earlier killings of bloggers for which it took responsibility.
The little-known group wants its interpretation of Islamic law imposed in secular Bangladesh and has vowed to kill critics of its ideology.
"They just tell these youths that the bloggers are the enemies of Islam. Nobody has read the blogs. They just blindly follow what the ABT says," said a police investigator.
Tensions have risen in Bangladesh since Hasina ordered Islamic leaders suspected of atrocities during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan to be put on trial for war crimes.
Her rivals say she is settling political scores by hunting down members of Jamaat-e-Islami, an ally of the main opposition group headed by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.
The latest conviction, of former opposition Minister Salauddin Quader Chowdhury for war crimes, has reignited protests that the trials are politically motivated.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, in a letter to the Bangladeshi Embassy in Washington, said Chowdhury was denied the opportunity to present evidence to the war crimes tribunal that he was out of the country at the time of the alleged offenses.