DHAKA, Bangladesh – Six men believed to belong to an Islamist militant group were sentenced to death on Tuesday for the 2016 murders of a prominent Bangladeshi gay rights activist and his friend.
When Xulhaz Mannan, an activist sometimes referred to as Julhas Mannan, and his friend Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were hacked to death in April 2016, it was seen as yet another in a series of targeted attacks on academics, secular writers and activists who wrote critical views. of Islam. That same month, an atheist blogger was shot dead and a college professor was hacked to death. The murder of Mr. Mannan was the first attack on a gay rights activist.
“They decided to kill the victims for their involvement in gay rights activism,” a special counter-terrorism tribunal in Dhaka said on Tuesday, announcing the convictions and sentences. “All the convicts had the same intention. They wanted to avoid exercising their freedom and creating fear in other people to express their opinion.”
The court said the six men convicted were members of Ansar al-Islam, a banned militant group that local news outlets have linked to Al Qaeda. Four of the men are in custody, while two are still at large, including Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque, a former major who was fired by the Bengal army, who accused him of involvement in an attempted coup in 2012.
Mr Mannan had attempted to organize a march for gay and transgender youth in April 2016, but police ordered it to be canceled amid threats of violence and fears it could provoke a religious backlash. Later in the month, Mr. Mannan and Mr. Tonoy were hacked to death by a group of men posing as couriers to gain entry to Mr. Mannan’s apartment complex. The men were carrying packages of machetes that police say had been used in the attacks.
An openly gay man in a conservative society where same-sex relationships are still banned, Mr Mannan started a Bangladeshi gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender magazine, Roopbaan, in 2014. love is socially accepted and their human rights are guaranteed.” Mr. Mannan had also worked for the United States Agency for International Development.
“This verdict sends a strong message to the militant group operating in Bangladesh,” said Golam Sharuar Khan Zakir, the prosecutor in the case. “We are happy with the verdict. We believe that justice has been served for Xulhaz and Tonoy.”
Khairul Islam, a lawyer for the suspects, said he would appeal the case and denied that the men belonged to a militant group.
Saif Hasnat reported from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Suhasini Raj from Lucknow, India.