Muhammed Zafar Iqbal, a renowned science fiction writer and professor at the Shahjalal University of Science and Technology in the northern city of Sylhet, was stabbed six times in his head, neck and left hand in March 2018.
The Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal in northeastern Sylhet sentenced 28-year-old convict Foyzul Hasan to life in prison, another to four years in jail and acquitted four others in the case over the murder attempt on writer Iqbal.
The verdict observed that accused Hasan was not linked with any extremist outfit but was influenced by jihadist literature and he believed that Iqbal mocked Solomon, one of the Biblical prophets also revered in Islam, in one of the books he wrote for children.
The 68-year old professor was a faculty of state-run Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) when he was attacked on the campus of the same university by Hasan, who was a resident of an area adjacent to the university.
Hasan, who was a former student of a traditional Islamic seminary, was captured by students immediately after the attack and severely beaten up by the angry students.
A recipient of Bangladesh’s top literary prize, the Bangla Academy Award, in 2004, Iqbal is known for his secular activism and science fiction writings, novels and newspaper columns on social issues, particularly criticising religious extremism and corruptions.
The judge said Hasan believed a children’s book written by Iqbal mocked and defamed Solomon, one of the Biblical prophets also revered in Islam.
“Blindness gripped those who carry out such attacks,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had said soon after the attack and urged Bangladeshis to remain alert to the threat of extremism. Hasan stabbed Iqbal on the head, back and left hand. Iqbal was immediately rushed to a local hospital and later was flown to a military hospital in Dhaka for better treatment.
The professor, who also studied and taught in universities in the United States, is a bestselling author and celebrity speaker who regularly appears on campuses nationwide also to motivate youth about education and values as a longstanding champion of free speech and secularism.
“He (Hasan) told us that it was his duty as a Muslim to resist those who work against Islam (and) Dr Zafar Iqbal was an enemy of Islam,” said Colonel Ali Haider Azad Ahmed of elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) at that time.
Bangladesh has seen gruesome attacks on secular activists, religious minorities, bloggers and foreigners, many of whom have been hacked to death with machetes.