Machete-wielding assailants hacked a Bangladeshi blogger to death on Friday, making him the fourth blogger to be killed in the country in less than six months. Niloy Chatterjee, 40, who had criticized Islamic extremism and the country's former leaders, was attacked in his Dhaka apartment, police officials told Reuters.
Writing under the pen name Niloy Neel, Chatterjee was part of an active community of secular bloggers in the country writing about religion, science, women's rights, and LGBT rights—a community that is getting smaller and smaller.
In February, attackers killed Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American blogger, while he was leaving a book fair, and seriously injured his wife. Two other bloggers—Washiqur Rahman and Ananta Bijoy Das—were killed in March and May. All were murdered in the same gruesome machete-hacking method.
The violence against the bloggers stems from a 2013 tribunal set up to investigate Islamist leaders accused of war crimes during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence. Chatterjee and other bloggers called for the death penalty for these leaders.
The tribunal became a divisive political issue, and a "hit list" naming 84 bloggers who were said to be atheists circulated among Islamist groups. Tens of thousands of people marched in the street in 2013, calling for bloggers who criticized Islam to be sentenced to death. (Bangladesh is 90 percent Muslim.)
A local Al Qaeda branch, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), has reportedly claimed responsibility for the killings of Chatterjee and several of the other bloggers, but Sumit Galhotra, an analyst with the Committee to Protect Journalists, cautioned that Al Qaeda involvement had not been confirmed.
While there have been arrests in connection with several of the past attacks, prosecutors have yet to secure any convictions. Bloggers who report threats to the police are reporting little or no action to help them, according to Galhotra.
"The government needs to establish much more clearly who is behind these attacks," Galhotra told Fusion. The ruling party is hesitating because it is "afraid there's going to be political costs if they speak out against this violence."
The murders mark only the most violent aspect of a broader crackdown on press freedom throughout the country. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government has arrested journalists at opposition newspapers and pressured critical news channels to shut down.
The violence against the bloggers threatens to erase one of the last venues for unfettered discussion and criticism in the country. "The space for criticism is shrinking—some bloggers have stopped writing altogether, and others have gone into hiding," Galhotra said. "It's disturbing to think what it means for the free flows of expression."
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.