On March 3, 2018, Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, a professor of computer science and engineering at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) and well-known author, was attacked during an on-campus event.
In addition to his work as a professor, Professor Iqbal is a prominent science-fiction writer and has reportedly been a “staunch critic of Islamist politics and radicalism in Bangladesh.” These views have reportedly figured in to some of his works of fiction.
On the day of the attack, Professor Iqbal was attending an event held by SUST’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering department. Reports indicate that the attacker stabbed Professor Iqbal in the head at least three times from behind before he was stopped and beaten by others in the audience. Police officers then arrived on the scene and took the attacker into custody. Professor Iqbal, who survived the attack, was taken to a hospital for treatment.
The suspect has been identified as Mr. Foyzur Rahman, a 24-year-old male who lives near the university. According to one media report, Mr. Rahman attacked Professor Iqbal “because he considered [him] ‘an enemy of Islam.’” Authorities have reportedly linked Mr. Rahman to an extremist, right-wing internet forum known as “Dawah Ilallah,” which is allegedly run by groups historically connected with violent attacks on secular bloggers. Forum users reportedly claimed Professor Iqbal was an “atheist” and as such, a target for attacks; Mr. Rahman was allegedly guided by other members of the forum to carry out the March 3 attack. A police investigation of Mr. Rahman is ongoing as of this report.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the apparently targeted attack on a scholar. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and freedom of expression. State authorities have a responsibility to ensure the security of academic communities, to prevent future attacks, and to hold perpetrators of violent attacks accountable.