A candle-lit prayer was held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 25 April 2017 in remembrance, one year after the gruesome murders of LGBT activists Xulhaz Mannan and his friend Tonoy. (Ahmed Salahuddin/NurPhoto via Getty)
Six members of an Islamic militant group have been sentenced to death for the brutal murder of two prominent Bangladeshi gay rights activists.
Bangladesh’s LGBT+ community was left in shock in April 2016 when Xulhaz Mannan, 35, and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, 25, were found hacked to death in Mannan’s apartment. Mannan was the editor of Bangladesh’s first ever LGBT+ magazine Roopban, and Tonoy was an actor.
Ansar Al Islam, a regional arm of al Qaeda later claimed responsibility for the murders, and eight men were charged with murder in 2019.
A special tribunal found six of those men guilty of murder and sentenced them to death on Tuesday (31 August), according to Reuters. Two others – both of whom are currently on the run – were acquitted, public prosecutor Golam Sarwar Khan said.
The six men convicted of murder have been named as Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haq, Mozammel Hossain, Arafat Rahman, Sheikh Abdullah, Asadullah, and Akram Hossain.
The Special Anti-Terrorism Tribunal also convicted all six men for being part of a terrorist group. Police believe the same organisation is responsible for the deaths of numerous activists.
Two convicted of murdering Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy are on the run
Two of the men convicted are currently on the run and were tried in absentia. Haq, a sacked army general, is one of those who was absent during court proceedings. Authorities believe he may be the leader of the group and it is thought he played an instrumental role in Mannan and Tonoy’s killings.
“We are happy with the judgement,” gay rights activist Shahanur Islam said, according to Reuters. “At least after a long time, we get justice.
“But as the LGBT activist as well as as anti-death penalty activist, I always prefer a life sentence… instead of death penalty.”
Islam said the government should now “take prompt action” to arrest those who are currently on the run.
There was widespread shock and outrage when Mannan and Tonoy were found dead in 2016. It was previously reported that their killers posed as couriers to gain access to the building.
Speaking at the launch of Roopban magazine in 2014, Mannan said the publication represented a “major leap forward” for the LGBT+ community in Bangladesh.
“The main reason for this publication is to promote love,” he said. “Promoting love and promoting the right to love. The audience for love is huge and that’s who this is for.”