The packed plenary chamber of the World Conference Centre resonated in a thundering applause as Rafida Bonya Ahmed received the Deutsche Welle Bobs-Best of Online Activism award for the blog, "Mukto-Mona" (Free thinker), in Bonn last Tuesday. The blog was founded by her husband Avijit Roy, who was hacked to death on the streets of Dhaka in February this year for airing his secular views.

As a “message to the fundamentalists”, the audience stood up and clapped to cheer Ahmed and other Bobs prize winners on the second day of the three-day Global Media Forum.

But are the enemies of free-speech listening?

No justice

Ahmed is far from optimistic. She is rather worried about the safety of Bangladeshi bloggers and writers who continue to air their secular views despite threats from religious extremists.

“I should stand more hopeful, but I don’t know if I can,” said Ahmed, who is still recovering from the wounds – apart from several head injuries, she has lost her left thumb – sustained when a group of machete-wielding men attacked her and Roy on their way from the Dhaka book fair on February 26. “There was a lot of international media coverage and media attention after the killing of my husband. But, they (extremists) killed at the rate of one a month. They’ve killed three bloggers in four months so far. Of the hit list of 84, nine have already been killed. There are quite a few hit lists. It’s like anybody who doesn’t like something, or someone, can come up with a hit list of one’s own,” she told reporters.

Later, in an interview to, she spoke about her apprehensions, as well as her commitment to her fight for a Bangladesh where one “can talk freely about anything and everything, express their ideas, and have healthy debates and arguments.”

Far from the symbolism of an award deterring the religious fundamentalists, she feels the extremists are drawing strength from the obvious lack of government will to oppose them. “They know there will be no justice. There will be no judicial trial. They will not be caught,” she told

Roy’s killers are still at large. Apart from the arrest of one suspect, there has been no progress in the brutal murder case so far. “The action of the government and the law enforcement authorities clearly shows that this is not an isolated case,” Ahmed says, adding, however, that merely arresting the killers is not a solution either. “It is not about those people who were hired to kill. We need to look much deeper than one or two hired killers. It’s about finding the root of the problem, and I think it goes pretty deep into our political, and economical, system, and the global phenomenon.”

Religious card

In a recent interview to the Reuters, Sajeeb Wazed, the son of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, rather candidly explained the position of the government on Roy’s killing. He said his mother offered condolences privately, but could not do so publicly owing to the “volatile” political situation in the country. “We are walking a fine line,” he told Reuters. “We don’t want to be seen as atheists. It doesn’t change our core beliefs. We believe in secularism.” He said the government was not able to come out strongly in support of Roy because the opposition’s propensity to play the religious card against them.

“I don’t know if they even know the meaning of secularism,” Ahmed tells “They do support these religious fundamentalists. They are appeasing them. They do meet their demands. When terrorists are killing the atheists, they are not doing anything.”

Meanwhile, Ahmed is focussing on strengthening "Mukto-Mona" with the help of a network of bloggers and moderators. She refuses to share much about the people behind the blog. “We would like to keep it under cover. Apart from Bangladesh, there are a lot of people from all over the world, including India. They have been working in full force even though we have had problems – technical problems, hacking and threats on the lives of the bloggers. Many of those writing under their pen names have been exposed, and threatened. Yet, the bloggers have continued writing. It is a big community and we will go forward with the help of everybody,” she said.

Hit lists

Having narrowly escaped death, does she not fear for her own life? “I am really worried about the bloggers in Bangladesh right now, more than myself. They (extremists) are hunting them down, publishing hit lists.”

However, it does not seem Ahmed would be back in Bangladesh any time soon. “I am not in Bangladesh. I am not physically, mentally, or even from the work perspective, in a position to go to Bangladesh.” Based in the US, she plans to coordinate with the network of Mukto-Mona bloggers.

At the awards ceremony, when asked how she was doing, she said, “I am here. I guess I am okay. Physically recovering, still undergoing treatment, especially my head injuries.”

The 11th edition of the Bobs awards ceremony was held as part of the fifth Global Media Forum, which was centred around the theme, “Media and foreign policy in the digital age”. "Mukto Mona" bagged the award in the social change category. Zaytoun the Little Refugee and Rancho Electronico were awarded in the Arts & Media and Privacy & Security categories, respectively. Raif Badawi, the jailed Saudi blogger, was awarded with the special prize, the first DW Freedom of Speech award.