A court in Bangladesh on Tuesday sentenced six members of a banned Islamist militant group to death over the 2016 killing of a prominent gay rights activist and magazine editor Xulhaz Mannan and his friend Mahbub Rabby Tonoy. 

Warning: The story has details of a violent homophobic murder that might be distressing to some readers.

Mannan was the editor of Roopban, Bangladesh’s first and only LGBTQI+ magazine.

Six men wielding guns and machetes had hacked Mannan (35) and Tonoy (25) to death on April 25, 2016 at the activist’s residence in the country’s capital in Dhaka. Mannan’s killing came the same month that he was planning a Pride march in Dhaka, that was called off following threats of violence from fundamentalist groups in the country.

According to the police, the murders were a part of a number of killings of atheists, academics and persons belonging to minority groups that roiled the country between 2013 and 2016, allegedly by members of Islamic State or al-Qaeda affiliated groups. 

Accused Were Smiling

The New York Times reported that a Special Anti-Terrorism Tribunal that sentenced the men said that the accused, “decided to slay the victims for their involvement in gay rights’ activism.”

“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,” the tribunal added. 

Local media reported that the accused were smiling as the tribunal delivered the verdict and one of the accused had even asked for death by a firing squad in public

The court heard that Syed Ziaul Haq, a sacked army major, was the mastermind behind the killings. Haq remains on the run and was tried by the tribunal in absentia. 

Along with Haq, the tribunal convicted and sentenced Akram Hossain, Md Mozammel Hossain alias Saimon, Md Sheikh Abdullah, Arafat Rahman and Asadullah.  Haq, according to the police, was the chief of the banned Ansar al-Islam group that was affiliated to al-Qaeda. two other accused were acquitted for want of evidence.

The tribunal reportedly said that its decision to award death penalty was with the intention that the punishment would act as a deterrent to others.

“If the accused had survived, members of Ansar al-Islam who are not in court would be motivated to commit the same crime. Therefore, the accused cannot get any sympathy.”

Devastating Impact On The LGBTQI+ Community

The 2016 killing has had a devastating effect on the LGBTQI+ community in Bangladesh and activists fighting for their rights.

Mannan and Tonoy’s death”was a senseless and an ugly act of violence,” Inclusive Bangladesh, a community-based youth group, said in a statement.

“The past five years have been devastating as many SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics) community members’  lives have been lost, and countless others have been subjected to random acts of violence and bigotry. It has been an emotional time for the SOGIESC community, our fellow human rights defenders and especially for Xulhaz-Tonoy’s family members and close ones. We hope that Xulhaz and Tonoy’s death, and this trial will remind us of the value of every human life, encourage greater respect towards one another, and move was to call out and eliminate violence and other acts of harm where we find them. We must continue to work towards a more just and civil world,” the organisation said. 

If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.

For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14

For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

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