Bangladesh: A Year Later, Killers of Gay-Rights Activists Remain at-Large

Prapti Rahman
170424-BD-xulhaz-620.jpg Bangladeshi journalists and onlookers gather in front of the Dhaka apartment building where Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub R. Tanay were hacked to death, April 25, 2016.

A year after Muslim extremists burst into a Dhaka apartment and killed gay-rights activists Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub R. Tonoy, relatives are losing hope that the killers will be punished and Bangladesh’s LGBT community has gone underground.

Police have determined that five to seven men carried out the killings on April 25, 2016, but investigators have since not made any significant headway and have only arrested one suspect, who was caught days after the attack. Police say they still have not been able to identify the other suspects who had disguised themselves as couriers.

The intruders entered Mannan’s apartment and hacked him and Tonoy to death with machetes in the presence of Mannan’s sick mother, relatives said.

“I do not expect that we will get justice. I am worried about my mother. It is very difficult to manage my mother,” Mannan’s older brother, Minhaz Mannan, told BenarNews. “Sometimes, she becomes restless and anxious for Xulhaz.”

Mannan, who worked at the American embassy in Dhaka for the U.S. Agency for International Development, moonlighted as editor of Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s first magazine for the LGBT community. It has stopped publishing since his death.

The other victim, Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, was a fellow gay-rights activist who worked as a dramatist for Lok Natto-dal, an association of local playwrights.

Mannan’s cousin, Dipu Moni, a former foreign minister and current chairwoman of a parliamentary standing committee on matters relating to the foreign ministry, told BenarNews that Mannan’s mother has Alzheimer’s.

“She sometimes mutters and says ‘how they hacked him?’ ‘What happens to Xulhaz’? Then she stops,” Moni told BenarNews.

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) claimed responsibility for the double-murder that took place a year ago on Tuesday, but investigators have blamed a local militant group with AQIS leanings, Ansarullah Bangla Team, for carrying out the killings. The killings occurred amid a spate of machete attacks in which Muslim zealots targeted secular bloggers, writers publishers and intellectuals.

In an op-ed piece commemorating the first anniversary of Mannan’s death, Marcia Bernicat, the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh, described him as a dedicated colleague, loyal friend and fierce champion of human rights.

“His actions, friendship and almost never-ending smile instilled a sense of happiness and positivity that words alone can’t describe,” the ambassador wrote. “Xulhaz loved life, just as he loved those around him and his country.”


Xulhaz Mannan (left) and Mahbub R. Tanay were hacked to death on April 25, 2016. [Star Mail]

‘We have no security’

A year later, the police’s detective branch has one suspect in custody, Shariful Islam Shihab, who was arrested 19 days after the killings, investigator Rajib Al Masud told BenarNews. He said Shihab had not identified other suspects.

“We have come to know that five to seven killers took part in the mission. We do not know the real names of the suspects,” Masud said, adding that investigators had no photos of the killers.

Police were supposed to file an investigation report on the killings on May 8, 2016, but a court has since granted the department nine extensions.

Meanwhile, members of Bangladesh LGBT community who fear that they could be targeted as well have largely gone into hiding.

A gay-rights activist who asked to remain anonymous told BenarNews that section 377 of Bangladesh’s penal code makes homosexuality a punishable offense and that Bangladeshi society is not ready to accept homosexuality.

He said he saw no hope for justice for Mannan and Tanay, and added that local media had done little reporting on the investigation.

One group that has gone underground is the Boys of Bangladesh (BOB). A cellphone number belonging to BOB chief Tanvir Alim has been disconnected and he did not respond to an email address posted on the organization’s website.

“We have no security. We remember our two slain friends. We are going to arrange a prayer for them tomorrow [Tuesday]. But we do not want any publicity at this moment,” an organizer who asked for anonymity told BenarNews.


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