Vol. 5 Num 79 Sat. August 14, 2004  
Front Page

Humayun Azad found dead in Munich

Writer Humayun Azad, grievously injured in February in a knife attack his family blamed on Islamist extremists, was found dead in Munich in Germany on Thursday morning, prompting his relatives to react in disbelief.

"Prof Azad arrived in Germany on August 8 where he intended to do several months of research on romantic German writer Heinrich Heine," a German Embassy press release says.

"Prof Azad was found dead in his Munich apartment by a member of the German PEN Centre when he did not come to an appointment with the PEN member," the release says.

"An autopsy has indicated that it (Azad's death) was due to heart failure," AFP quoted police spokesman Dieter Groebner as saying in Germany. "There is absolutely no evidence of any violence," he said. "He died of natural causes."

The spokesman said tests for poisons or toxins had been undertaken and the results would be available in a few weeks.

Bangladesh High Commissioner in Berlin Alimul Haque told The Daily Star yesterday by phone that Munich police informed the High Commission upon receipt of Azad's postmortem that his death was natural.

But Azad's distraught family alleged foul play in reaction less than a week after he sought safety in Germany in the wake of a death threat in June. Latifa Kohinoor, wife of Azad, demanded an inquiry and alleged: "He was killed in a conspiracy. I don't believe it was a normal death. He was killed in a planned way."

The 57-year-old who was surviving with his wife, son Anannya Azad and daughters Mouli Azad and Smita Azad, wrote more than 60 books of poetry, novels, articles and comparative literature and was a staunch feminist and a fearless critic of human rights violations. Azad received the Bangla Academy Award in 1996.

A German Embassy official in Dhaka told the family that the German authorities asked the Bangladesh High Commission in Germany to arrange for sending Azad's body back home after he was found dead on his bed at Munich University dormitory shortly before 10:00am German time.

"We are an 11-hour drive from the spot but getting in touch with Munich. We are now waiting for instructions from the foreign ministry to send his body back home," Alimul said.


Hundreds of people representing a broad spectrum of society gathered in and outside Azad's house on Fuller Road in Dhaka, turning the area into a dismal scene of mourners. Teachers, students, journalists, publishers and other professionals found themselves flashing back to their days with the scholarly writer.

Student organisations demanded an "international inquiry" to make it clear whether there was foul play behind his death.

Bangladesh Chhatra League, student wing of the main opposition Awami League, and Chhatra Union brought out processions on the Dhaka University campus.

"It's unbelievable. A neutral postmortem is inevitable," private news agency UNB quoted President of Dhaka University Teachers Association Dr AAMS Arefin Siddique as saying.

Azad survived a brutal attack on the night of February 27 near Bangla Academy when he was going back home from the Ekushey Book Fair, an annual event in memory of Language Movement martyrs.

His family at the time blamed the attack on hardline Islamists believed to be angered by his latest book "Pak Sar Zamin Saad Baad" which was set in the 1971 War of Independence from Pakistan. It triggered controversy in and outside political and academic circles for his bitter criticism about fanaticism.

He recovered from his critical injuries after long treatment at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Dhaka and Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok.


Since Azad did not turn up for the appointment with the member of PEN (International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists) and no-one answered the door despite repeated calls, the apartment authorities called emergency service officials who opened the door to find Azad in 'deep sleep'.

Back in Dhaka, Head of German Cultural Section Guido Genrich, Information Officer Mujtaba Morshed and some senior teachers of Dhaka University, where he was a professor of Bangla, went to Azad's house at about 9:00am yesterday and broke the news to his wife and children.

A source in the German Embassy said the embassy received the information from Germany Thursday afternoon and went to Azad's house at about 8:30pm to convey it to his family.

But Azad's wife and children were in hospital to see the ailing younger brother of Azad at the time and the officials did not break the news to his younger daughter Smita, as there was no senior family member at home.

His son Anannya and daughter Mouli told reporters that they had telephone conversations thrice with their father, with the last on the night of August 9. He was in good health, they said.


"The conspirators murdered him in Germany as they failed in Bangladesh," Azad's wife Kohinoor alleged and questioned why the death news was conveyed much later.

Anannya, a student of class X, escaped from his abductors on the Dhaka University campus last month, whom he linked to the February 27 attempt on Azad's life.

The abductors tried to extract information from Anannya about his father's next visit abroad before he ran away from two hours of captivity.

UNB quoted Mouli as saying Azad's body will be donated to Bangladesh Medical College Hospital as he wished.

Anannya Azad, son, and Latifa Kahinoor, wife, of Humayun Azad break down at their Fuller Road home in Dhaka yesterday upon receiving the news of the writer's death in Germany. PHOTO: STAR