A mysterious death

Print edition : September 10, 2004

In Dhaka, mourning Humayun Azad. - FARJANA K. GODHULY/AFP

NOTED Bangladesh poet, writer and linguist Humayun Azad was found dead in his apartment in Munich, Germany, on August 12, officials of the German Embassy in Dhaka informed his family on August 13. A staunch critic of religious fundamentalists, the 57-year-old Professor of Bangla in Dhaka University survived a deadly attack by fundamentalists in Dhaka in February. Many of the more than 70 books he has written have angered the orthodoxy.

He was staying alone in the apartment on the Munich University campus since his arrival on August 8 on an invitation from the writers' forum PEN International to do research on German writer Heinrich Heine. His family, friends and colleagues suspect the hand of fundamentalists in his death. Said his younger brother Manzur Kabir: "The fundamentalists have repeatedly threatened to kill him, and finally selected a suitable place to execute their plan."

Azad's wife Latifa Kohinoor, son Ananya Azad and daughters Mouli Azad and Smita Azad asked why the news had been conveyed to them so late and demanded an "internationally recognised autopsy" of the body. Latifa, referring to her telephonic conversations with Azad, claimed that "he was in good health and had no complication except for the eyes". She told reporters that the writer had been reluctant to go abroad but the family had insisted that he should go, given the repeated threats to his life.

As the news broke on August 13, teachers and students of the Dhaka University, leaders of political parties and student organisations thronged the writer's Fuller Road residence. Bangladesh's Ambassador in Berlin, Alimul Huq, told a television channel that the embassy got the news on August 13 from the Munich police and passed it on. The German police told the Ambassador that they kept the body at a restricted place and conducted an autopsy. The police did not find any signs of unnatural death, the Ambassador told the channel. "Despite the autopsy, the German police will probe further," he said. "They will conduct tests on blood-alcohol level and toxicology."

On February 27, unidentified persons attacked the writer, whose latest novel Pak Sar Zamin Sat Bat had criticised bitterly the role of razakars, who collaborated with the Pakistani occupation army, in 1971. He was hacked in the jaws, lower part of the neck and hands with machetes. He was in a coma for several days before recovering at the Dhaka Combined Military Hospital and then at the Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok. On his return from Bangkok, Azad told journalists that fundamentalist forces had carried out the attack on his life.

He was time and again declared murtad by the fundamentalists. Political, cultural and writers' organisations have also expressed doubts over the cause of the death. Some of them, however, believe that complications he developed after the attack on him in February may have caused his death. Just before going to Germany Azad issued an `Open Letter' calling on the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and countrymen to protect him and his family members from the constant death threats by fundamentalists.

Ananya Azad was the target of a kidnapping attempt, but he managed to escape from his captors and return home.

Leaders of many organisations demanded an impartial investigation into Azad's death. Opposition Awami League president Sheikh Hasina demanded a probe into the cause of the death. "The possibility of involvement of the anti-liberation forces in his death cannot be ruled out," she said, referring to the writer's fears about his security. The Awami League and many other secular political parties have requested the German authorities to conduct an impartial investigation into the death. "There must be a conspiracy," they alleged.

Many Opposition parties alleged that it was "not a death, but a planned killing". Statements issued by a host of professional bodies condemned the "government's mysterious position regarding dissemination of information related to the death of the noted writer" and demanded a probe into the incident.

The left-leaning 11-party alliance expressed surprise over the sudden death saying, "There are reasons to believe that the death was not a normal one." The Left Democratic Front demanded an immediate investigation. The family members told journalists that his body would be donated for medical education as per the writer's wish.

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