Metro Weekly

Six men sentenced to death for murder of LGBTQ activist and USAID employee in Bangladesh

Prosecutors claim Xulhaz Mannan, the founder of an LGBTQ magazine, was targeted for his activism by a militant Islamic group.

The Old High Court Gate outside the Bangladesh High Court in Dhaka. – Photo: Ranadipam Basu, via Wikimedia.

Earlier this week six Bangladeshi men accused of belonging to an Islamist militant group were convicted and sentenced to death for their role in the killing of a prominent LGBTQ rights activist and his friend in 2016.

Xulhaz Mannan, also known as Julhas Mannan, and his friend, Tonoy Mahbub Rabbi, were hacked to death by machetes wielded by six men who posed as couriers delivering a parcel, in order to elude security guards at Mannan’s apartment in the capital city of Dhaka.

After attacking a security guard, the six entered Mannan’s apartment, killing both men. The assassins, who were also armed with guns, escaped the building through a narrow alley, opening fire on police as they left.

Friends of Mannan, who had worked as an employee for the U.S. Agency for International Development, said at the time they believed Mannan was targeted for his pro-LGBTQ activism, as Bangladesh had been experiencing a slew of killings targeting intellectuals, atheists, members of religious minority groups, and human rights activists with views critical of or contrary to Islam or Islamic law, reports The New York Times.

Just weeks prior to his death, Mannan had tried to organize a march for LGBTQ youths in April 2016, but that event was canceled due to fears of a backlash from conservative and Islamic activists, especially after threats of violence were lodged against organizers. Mannan had previously started an LGBTQ magazine, Roopbaan, in 2014 — a radical act in a conservative Islamic-majority country where same-sex relations are illegal.

Prosecutors claimed the six men who were convicted were members of Ansar al-Islam, a banned militant group that local news outlets have connected to Al-Qaeda. Four of the men are currently in jail, with two others, including Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque, a former major fired by the Bangladeshi Army who is alleged to have taken part in a 2012 attempted coup, remain at large.

See also: Man wins first-ever challenge against Malaysia’s Islamic ban on gay sex

“They decided to slay the victims for their involvement in gay rights activism,” a special anti-terrorism tribunal in Dhaka said on Tuesday in announcing the men’s convictions. “All the convicts had the same intention. They wanted to prevent them from practicing their freedom and create fear among the other people from expressing their opinion.”

Khairul Islam, a lawyer for the defendants, said he would appeal the case and denied the men belonged to the militant Islamic group.

Golam Sharuar Khan Zakir, the public prosecutor in the case, called the verdict a “strong message” for members of Ansar al-Islam, which is operational in Bangladesh. 

“We are happy with the verdict. We believe that justice for Xulhaz and Tonoy is served.”

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