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Free speech activists demand justice for slain US blogger

Protest in Washington calls on Bangladeshi government to swiftly investigate killing of Avijit Roy

Free speech activists rallied in Washington, D.C., on Saturday afternoon to call on the government of Bangladesh to conduct a swift investigation into the murder of a U.S. blogger, an ardent defender of secularism, who was killed last month in Dhaka.

On Feb. 26, machete-armed attackers killed Avijit Roy after he and his wife attended a book fair during a visit to Bangladesh. His wife, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, was injured and later returned to the U.S. for treatment. The attack was the latest in a series of assaults on secular bloggers in the last few years.

"We've seen over the last couple years a wave of attacks on secular writers," Nadia Afrin, a spokeswoman for Drishtipat DC, a Bangladeshi-American human rights and social justice organization, told Al Jazeera.

"We just wanted to stand up against that and also to demand justice for these attacks," she said.

Protesters gathered at DuPont Circle in the U.S. capital to demand a "swift and thorough" investigation into Roy's murder, the group's Facebook event page said.

Roy's father, Ajoy Roy, said Tuesday that he was unhappy with the pace of the investigation.

"The progress of investigation is really very slow and I am concerned that the case may be buried without result, like so many other cases related to such killings in Bangladesh,"  Ajoy Roy said.

Police denied that the investigation was stalled, saying they had received new information that needed to be weighed.

"The information we have confirmed that this was an act of extreme militants in the name of religion," Mohammad Masudur Rahman, deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said. "It might take some time to draw a conclusion."

The FBI has been sent to assist with the Bangladeshi police investigation.

A suspect arrested in the case, Farabi Shafiur Rahman, has denied killing the blogger but said he was glad Roy was attacked.

Roy’s death has prompted protests in Dhaka, with demonstrators calling into question the government's ability to guarantee security and protect free expression. Islam is the state religion of Bangladesh, but the country is governed by secular laws. 

Roy's family said he had received threats in the weeks before his death over his blog, Mukto-Mona (Free Mind), which condemned religious intolerance and focused on humanist, secular ideals.

The popular Bengali-language blog featured articles on scientific reasoning and religion. In a January post on Facebook, Roy defended atheism, calling it a "rational concept to oppose any unscientific and irrational belief."

The Washington-based non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists called on Bangladesh's government to prosecute Roy's killers, and called the attack "emblematic of the culture of impunity that pervades Bangladesh," in a statement following the murder.

In 2013, there were threats against several secularist bloggers who had demanded capital punishment for convicted of war crimes during Bangladesh's war of independence.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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