Why we’re covering this: We oppose intimidation, harassment and violence against LGBTQ people internationally. Our hope is that broadcasting this will help bring Mannan’s murderers to justice and possibly prevent future murders.
Xulhaz Mannan — the 35-year-old editor of Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine — and his friend Tanay Mojumdar were murdered by five or six machete-wielding individuals the evening of Sunday, April 24.
According to a security guard who was also injured, the murderers entered Mannan’s apartment building posing as couriers. When Mannan told the security guard that he was not expecting a package, the men attacked the guard and then forcibly entered Mannan’s apartment, starting their attack in the living room and finishing in the bedroom.
While no arrests have been made, the attackers reportedly carried backpacks and one of them had a gun; Mannan’s mother and maid were also present at the time, though both are reportedly alive. One report alleges that the murderers were Islamic extremists who chanted “Naraye Takbir, Allahu Akbar” (“Shout out the phrase, God is the greatest”) as they fled the scene. Although Daesh (aka. ISIS) has claimed responsibility, there is no concrete proof of their involvement.
In addition to editing Roopbaan, Mannan also worked at the U.S. development agency USAid, as a protocol officer with the local US embassy and also organized an annual “rainbow rally” event in the capitol city of Dhaka where he lived. Police cancelled the 2015 event citing security concerns after an Islamic hate group set up an online group threatening its organizers.
The Dhaka Tribune criticized Roopbaan for being too eroticized; Mannan accused the reviewer of overlooking the magazine’s other non-erotic content including:
“an interview of a same-sex couple highlighting their relationship, an article on BoB’s participation at recent UN UPR, write up on homosexuality in Hollywood film, another film review, fashion portfolio and tips, write up on Michael Modhushudan’s relationship with his friend, write up on human rights to love, zodiac review, LGBT news, poetry and so on.”
Mannan’s murder is one of many recent killings used to silence “secular” intellectuals in Bangladesh. Earlier this month 58-year-old English professor Rezaul Siddique got hacked to death while walking home and 28-year-old atheist blogger and law student Nazimuddin Samad was also killed. In 2014, four other prominent Bangladeshi bloggers were hacked to death and many others were included on a terrorist organization’s hit-list of “opponents of Islam.”
Amnesty alleges that Bangladesh authorities have done little to discourage such attacks. Exiled lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists told the watchdog group that when they attempted to report threats to authorities, police responded by warning them they could be charged with “unnatural offenses.”Rather than offer security, Amnesty said, police have warned LGBT activists to be “less provocative.”
LGBT rights are non-existent in Bangladesh. While it is the second-largest Muslim country in the world, right behind Indonesia, Section 377 of the country’s criminal code punishing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” (including sodomy and oral sex between same-sex partners) is actually an import from British colonialists. “Carnal intercourse” is punishable with fines and even life imprisonment. The country has no legalized same-sex marriage, anti-discrimination protections, hate crime laws and does not allow gay or bisexual people to adopt or donate blood.
As a result, most of LGBT life in Bangladesh occurs online. The country’s most popular gay male forum Boys of Bangladesh (BoB) has over 7,000 members, but Mannan told the Dhaka Tribune earlier this year, “There’ve been quite a few instances of people being trapped and blackmailed into paying high amount of extortion money.” He added that many men go ahead and pay rather than risk further harassment at the hands of police. As a result, many people use anonymous accounts to engage with the online gay community.
In a statement, US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat said, “We abhor this senseless act of violence and urge the Government of Bangladesh in the strongest terms to apprehend the criminals behind these murders.”