Bangladesh charges eight over murder of LGBT+ activists

DHAKA, May 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation): Bangladeshi authorities have charged eight members of a banned Islamist group over the murder of two LGBT+ activists hacked to death three years ago, police said on Monday.

Xulhaz Mannan, the founder and publisher of a gay-themed magazine, and actor Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were killed at Mannan’s home in Dhaka in April 2016 in an attack claimed by Ansar Al Islam, the regional arm of al Qaeda.

The attack was part of a string of murders targeting liberal activists and other minorities that shocked the South Asian nation and led many to go into hiding or flee abroad.

“We have put charges against eight people,” said Masudur Rahman, deputy commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police. “All of them are members of the Ansar Al Islam.”

Four of the eight are in custody and police are still searching for the others.

Mannan’s brother Minhaz Mannan Emon said the family hoped the arrests would bring justice.

“We hope the killers get punished soon and we don’t have to wait for three more years for justice,” told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Gay sex is illegal in Bangladesh with a maximum punishment of life in prison, and the country’s LGBT+ community has long been marginalized.

The attack was part of a string of murders targeting liberal activists and other minorities that shocked the South Asian nation and led many to go into hiding or flee abroad

Mannan’s magazine, Roopbaan, had launched two years before he was killed, and quickly faced a backlash and threats in the conservative Muslim country.

“Xulhaz and Tonoy were murdered at a time when Bangladesh witnessed increasing intolerance, political polarisation backed by hatred and democratic backsliding,” said Mubashar Hasan, a political analyst who teaches at the University of Oslo.

LGBT+ activist Mazharul Islam, who was a friend of Mannan, said he hoped authorities would soon arrest the other four accused in the case.

“We want justice for our friends,” said Islam.

Reporting by Naimul Karim @Naimonthefield; Editing by Claire Cozens.