A court in Bangladesh has sentenced four people to death for the murder of prominent writer and scholar Humayun Azad in 2004.
Azad, 56, was hacked with cleavers by members of Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) on February 27, 2004 as he was returning home from a book fair in Dhaka.
He died in August of that year while undergoing treatment in Germany. Amid outrage over the murder, the JMB was banned the following year.
Azad’s killing is believed to be the first in a series of brutal killings of scholars, writers, bloggers and lay people in Bangladesh a decade later – between 2013 and 2016 – by right-wing Muslim groups. Most of them were killed in broad daylight with machetes.
Announcing the verdict in a crowded courtroom on Wednesday, Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge Al-Mamun said the convicts – Mohammad Mizanur Rahman Minhaz, Anwarul Alam, Nur Mohammad Shamim and Salehin Sani – had committed a ” heinous crime”.
Among them, Sani and Shamim are on the run. A fifth suspect in the case, Hafez Mahmud, was killed in an alleged shootout with police in 2014.
“It is better to get justice delayed than no justice at all,” Azad’s eldest daughter, Mauli Azad, told Al Jazeera after the verdict was announced.
“It took 18 years to get a verdict. I’m still happy. I want the government to find the two who are on the run and bring them to justice as well.
Azad was an award-winning author and professor of Bengali literature at the University of Dhaka.
He has over 60 publications to his credit, including seven books of poetry, 20 novels and dozens of non-fiction books. In 1986, he received the Bangla Academy Award, the country’s highest literary honor.
In 1995, her book on modern feminism, Nari, was banned, three years after its publication, for offending “Muslim religious sentiment”. The ban was lifted after a five-year long legal battle.
In 2004, his novel, Pak Sar Jamin Sad Bad (Blessed be the Holy Land), which criticized religious fundamentalism, angered right-wing Muslim groups in Bangladesh, who began threatening him.
A week before the fatal attack on Azad, Muslim preacher and then MP Delwar Hossain Sayeedi told the house that the writer’s work should be banned and a blasphemy case should be filed against him.
Sayeedi’s speech in parliament reportedly led to the murder of the writer, although charges against the radical politician were dropped.
“He [Sayeedi] should have been involved,” Azad’s younger brother, Manjur Kabir, told Al Jazeera.
In 2014, Sayeedi’s death sentence for crimes against humanity during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War was commuted to life.
Dhaka-based journalist Shariful Hasan was a second-year student at Dhaka University when Azad was attacked. Hasan said he was present at the scene and took the blood-soaked professor to the hospital.
“It was the first incident in Bangladesh when machetes came out against the compound. Before that, it had never happened,” he told Al Jazeera.
According to Hasan, religious intolerance began to grow in Bangladesh after Azad’s murder.
“About a decade later, we saw how writers and bloggers were attacked and killed. If we could have brought justice to Azad’s murder sooner, the other murders could have been stopped.