Police in Dhaka on Thursday detained four members of a group promoting rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people as they tried to rally without a permit amid Bengali new-year festivities, officials said.
According to witnesses, the activists gathered Thursday morning at the Shahbag intersection under the banner of the Roopbaan activist group to celebrate the first day of Bengali calendar, Pahela Boishakh.
“We have arrested them as they did not have clearance from authorities to hold such a rally,” Abu Bakar Siddique, the officer-in-charge of the Shahbag police station, told BenarNews.
The group of LGBT activists had set out to join thousands of people who were gathering to take part in the Mongol Shovajatra, a Pahela Boishakh rally organized by the Institute of Fine Arts at Dhaka University.
“They [the four activists] tried to join the Mongol Shovajatra, but the organizers refused them entry,” Siddique said.
“Besides, you know, protecting homosexuals may create a law and order slide,” the policeman added.
As of 7:30 p.m. (local time), no charges had been filed against the four activists, and they were expected to be released from custody, Siddique said.
Witness Mohammad Faruk, 32, who attended the Mongol Shovajatra, told BenarNews that he saw some 10 LGBT people gathering at the intersection.
“Police picked some of them up, and the others left,” he said.
The authorities at the last minute denied permission for and ordered the cancellation of a “rainbow rally” being organized by Roopbaan, after Islamic fundamentalists had threatened to beat up participants, Agence France-Presse reported.
“We did not hold the rainbow rally although some 60 people came to the spot where we were scheduled to meet,” a Roopbaan organizer told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding he did not know why the four men were detained.
‘Their rights must be protected’
Homosexuality is considered a taboo in Bangladesh.
There is no official figure on the number of the LGBT people in the country, because few of them are seen in public.
The negative social attitude toward LGBT people works against protecting their rights, social scientists say.
“Unless the social attitude toward the LGBT is changed, the police would not mind the arrests of the same-sex marriage promoters – this is a bitter fact. But, we have to understand the LGBT members are our children. Their rights must be protected,” Hasan Imam, a teacher of sociology at Rajshahi University, told BenarNews.
On its Facebook page, Roopbaan posted a photo on showing members holding balloons of different colors and parading on Shahbag square to celebrate the Pahela Boishakh.
According to Roopbaan’s Facebook page, the group promotes sexual diversity. Members are “respectful to the country’s laws, values and culture.”
“According to our constitution, all citizens irrespective of sex, gender, caste, creed and religion [have] the right to hold rallies. But, now, the police decide our rights. This is really unfortunate to foil the LGBT rally,” A.S.M. Nasiruddin Elan, director of the rights group Odhikar, told BenarNews.