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Bangladesh: Secular activist and sci-fi writer Zafar Iqbal attacked during seminar in Sylhet

Attack on Zafar Iqbal: No country for the outspoken

Monday 5 March 2018, by siawi3


Bangladesh: Secular activist and sci-fi writer Zafar Iqbal attacked during seminar in Sylhet

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina condemned the incident and called the attacker a fanatic.

One of Bangladesh’s top writers, Zafar Iqbal, was stabbed in his head during a seminar in the northern city of Sylhet on Saturday. He was soon airlifted to a hospital in Dhaka for treatment, and is now out of danger, doctors said.

Iqbal is a secular activist, a science fiction writer, and the head of the Electronic and Electrical Engineering department at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology in Sylhet. The attack is the latest in a series of assaults on secular activists in the country.

Abdul Wahab, a spokesman for the Sylhet city police, told AFP that they suspected he was attacked with a knife. “He was in a seminar when he was attacked,†Wahab said. “His gunman caught an attacker.†Wahab was referring to the security personnel Bangladesh had provided for the country’s top secular activists since suspected extremists started targeting them.

Iqbal’s attacker, identified as Foyzur Rahman Faizul, was immediately detained by police. The police have also arrested two of his uncles, according to the Dhaka Tribune. “Faizul was a madrasa student,†Jalalabad police station Officer-in-Charge Anwarul Islam was quoted as saying. “After the attack, his [Faizur’s] family members left their residence and are currently on the run.â€

Bangladesh has been hit by a spate of attacks against religious minorities, bloggers, foreigners, LGBT activists and other intellectuals since 2013. In 2016, a university professor was murdered near his home in Rajshahi, a senior editor of the country’s first LGBT magazine Roopban was hacked to death, a 70-year-old Buddhist monk was found murdered inside a monastery, and a Christian businessman and the wife of a senior policeman were killed a few hours apart in June.

Saturday’s attack was condemned by protesters in Dhaka and Sylhet. Hundreds of people gathered to protest at the Shahbagh Square in Dhaka. “It is an ominous sign. He is a guardian of progressive movement in Bangladesh. His attack is an attack against progressive Bangladesh,†one of the protesters, Imran Sarker, told AFP.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also condemned the attack, and called the attacker a fanatic. “Those who are committing these crimes are fanatics,†she was quoted as saying by The Daily Star. “We earlier decided not to allow terrorism and militancy in the country, we’re conducting drives against drug abuse as well.â€



AKM Faisal Rahman

Published at 03:03 AM March 04, 2018
Last updated at 05:54 PM March 04, 2018

Attack on Zafar Iqbal: No country for the outspoken

Photo: Professor Dr. Muhammad Zafar Iqbal

Prof Zafar Iqbal also received an SMS that stated: “Hi unbeliever! We will strangle you soon

Prof Zafar Iqbal has been a staunch supporter of science, education, an ardent advocate of humanist, and secular values. And he is never afraid to stand for a cause.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that on Saturday’s knife attack on Zafar Iqbal should not have come as a surprise. He and Prof Hasan Azizul Haque of Rajshahi University were branded atheists and enemies of Islam by Islami Chhatra Shibir as far back as 2006 for advocating for rationalism and secularism. He also complained about receiving death threats over phone and email in that year.

Another death threat by radical Islamist outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) was issued against Zafar Iqbal and his wife Dr Yasmeen Haque in 2016. Yasmeen Haque, a physics teacher of SUST, received the threat via an SMS on October 12, which read: “Welcome to our new top list! Your breath may stop at anytime. Abt.â€

Later on the same day, Prof Zafar Iqbal also received an SMS that stated: “Hi unbeliever! We will strangle you soon.â€

Needless to mention, Zafar Iqbal is known for his strong opposition of Jamaat-Shibir for their role in the Liberation War of 1971. He expressed solidarity with the activists of Gonojagoron Moncho in February 2013 when they raised demands to ensure the punishment of all the crimes against humanity committed in 1971 and ban Jamaat-Shibir.

Gonojagoron’s movement became complicated as some activists and bloggers involved in it were branded as atheists and blasphemers by religious groups, including Hefajat-e-Islam Bangladesh.

Several bloggers and writers branded as atheists and blasphemers were killed from 2013 onwards.

Zafar defied all attempts at intimidation and continued to demand justice.

He even went as far as blaming the government for its incompetence in stopping the killing of bloggers.

His acerbic critiques have not targeted only anti-liberation forces and the fundamentalist groups. He made enemies among a section of locals in Sylhet for opposing their demand for a 50% quota for the people of Sylhet in the SUST admission test.

And may it be the issue of question leaks in public exams and job recruitment exams, or ragging of freshers at universities, Zafar finds it hard not to speak against injustice.

It was just on Friday when Zafar came down hard on the students involved in ragging at SUST, saying: “I beg forgiveness from the nation that the students of my university can do such a thing.â€