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Fear forces Bangladesh’s LGBT community into hiding

Weeks after suspected Islamist militants hacked to death editor of Bangladesh's first LGBT-themed magazine, fear spreads through the LGBT community forcing it into hiding

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By Sanjeev Miglani

Dhaka: Fear spreads through the Bangladesh LGBT community forcing it into hiding, weeks after suspected Islamist militants hacked to death Xulhaz Mannan, editor of the country’s first LGBT-themed magazine along with an associate on April 25. Another friend of the prominent gay rights activist Mannan, was threatened by a letter delivered to his home.

“Say your prayers, confess to God for your sins. Eat or drink whatever you wish to, nobody can save you,” read the handwritten letter.

The attack, claimed by the regional arm of al Qaeda, was the first of its kind to target the community, although it followed similar killings in the last 16 months of university professors, bloggers and atheists who published views critical of Islam.

Bangladesh’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community was already marginalized in a country where same-sex sexual activity is illegal and many people strongly disapprove.

Reuters interviewed eight members of Bangladesh’s LGBT community, some of them activists. All but one spoke on condition they not be named, because of the threat to their safety.

Based on their own and others’ experiences, they said some people had scrubbed Facebook pictures that hinted at same-sex relationships or de-activated profiles altogether.

Several had gone into hiding in safe houses in Dhaka arranged by local and foreign friends, while others fled to the countryside, considering it safer than the teeming capital.

“There is this constant, creepy feeling of being followed by someone, even if in reality we are not,” said a young gay professional, who froze in fear last week when he mistakenly thought a man carrying a bag was approaching him with a machete.

“This is what is crippling our everyday life. Any bag can have a machete, which can crack my skull open for being a free thinker.”

Some have moved to more secure apartment blocks with close circuit television, while others are taking self-defense classes.

Related article: Killing of minorities in Bangladesh

ISLAMIC STATE VERSUS AL QAEDA?

The slaying of the two gay men is part of a broader pattern of killings claimed by Islamist militants, who have stepped up a violent campaign in the mainly Muslim nation of 160 million people.

At least 23 people have been hacked to death with machetes since February, 2015. Most attacks occurred in homes, but some happened in broad daylight.

The main groups claiming these murders have been al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Islamic State, lending the impression of an intensifying rivalry between two movements engaged in global jihad and trying to lure recruits.

That prospect has raised alarm in India and the United States, diplomats in the region said, particularly with U.S. forces engaged in battling Islamist insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan facing its own militant threat.

On the quiet street where Mannan, 35, lived in a small apartment block, neighbors and the security guard had believed the killers to be couriers delivering a package.

Friends said Mannan’s home was like a “shrine” for members of the gay community, where they could celebrate birthdays and once staged a mock same-sex marriage.

They added that they were too scared even to visit his grave, lest someone see them.

The size of Bangladesh’s LGBT community is impossible to estimate, activists said, given that only a small proportion of its members openly admit it.

“CRIMINALS, SINNERS OR PERVERTS”

A few days after Mannan’s death, hate messages appeared online saying his mother should also be executed for producing a “bastard son,” said Shahanur Islam, a gay rights campaigner who left Dhaka for an undisclosed location after the attack.

“There is so much hatred against us that we fear they will go after our parents and brothers and sisters.”

None of the members of the gay and lesbian community who Reuters spoke to said they had approached police for protection, because they feared further harassment.

Some worried that the police investigation into the double murder could “out” them as gays when they had spent a lifetime trying to hide that identity.

“In the eyes of the law we are criminals, in the eyes of our religion we are sinners and from the viewpoint of society we are perverts,” said the young professional.

Bangladesh police said on Sunday they had arrested a home-grown Islamist militant in connection with the murder of the gay campaigner and his friend.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said no one involved in the killings would be spared, whether the victims were bloggers or homosexuals. But he urged people to respect religious sensitivities.

“I request everyone to express views moderately. We have learned that Xulhaz was an editor of an LGBT magazine and used to work to protect the rights of gay people. It is not in line with our society,” he told reporters.

A lesbian woman said her plight was even more difficult than that of homosexual men; women were simply forced into marriages, or worse.

“My family is not aware of my case,” the 20-year-old college student from the north of the country said by telephone. “I suspect they would kill me if they come to know about it.”

Source: Reuters

(Additional reporting by Ruma Paul and Serajul Qaudir; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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  • Akanksha Sharma

    They are humans too. Why aren’t equal rights given to them? They face more gender inequality than women and men face in our society.

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Violence And Intimidation Directed Towards Rohingyas In Bangladesh Camps

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies.

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Rohingya, Violence
Rohingya refugees carry a hume pipe in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

The failed attempt to send thousands of Rohingya back to Myanmar starting this month has drawn attention to alleged violence and intimidation by security forces against members of the Muslim minority living in Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps.

Bangladesh has boosted its international reputation by hosting more than 730,000 Rohingya who fled a vicious campaign by Myanmar’s military last year that U.N. investigators have labelled genocide – an accusation Myanmar has consistently denied.

But Bangladesh appears keen to demonstrate that Rohingya refugees will not be welcome there indefinitely. The planned repatriations sparked fear and chaos last week as Rohingya went into hiding – and in a handful of reported cases attempted suicide – to avoid being sent back.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Meanwhile, allegations of sporadic beatings, looting and intimidation by Bangladeshi soldiers, police and camp officials have underscored the bleak conditions faced by Rohingya in their host country, where most are denied official refugee status and face restrictions on freedom of movement.

The repatriation of some 2,000 refugees was scheduled to begin last Thursday, but Bangladesh has now put the plans on hold until next year after failing to find any Rohingya willing to go back.

Rohingya in the camps have told VOA that soldiers were stationed near the homes of those who were told they would be sent back last week, fueling fears of forced repatriation and adding to widespread distress in communities already suffering extreme trauma after last year’s violence.

One Rohingya man told VOA anonymously that block leaders in the camps were also “announcing with loudspeakers… that it’s essential for everyone to carry ID with them whenever and wherever they go if they leave their homes.”

Late last month, security forces looted property from Rohingya shopkeepers at the Balukhali camp, said John Quinley, a human rights specialist with the non-profit organization Fortify Rights.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugees walk under rain clouds on June 26, 2018, in Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh. VOA

“Right now the security forces are operating in the camps with total impunity,” he said.

In another case earlier this month, Fortify Rights reported that security forces rounded up 18 Rohingya leaders and slapped and hit some of them while telling them to instruct other refugees to cooperate with a new U.N.-backed project to provide them with “smart cards.”

Many Rohingya oppose the identity cards because they fear the information on them will be shared with the Myanmar government.

Bangladesh’s refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, Abul Kalam, told VOA he was unaware of the allegations of violence but would follow up. “Generally, it is not acceptable that someone would apply force on or beat someone to do or not to do something,” he said.

Quinley called on the U.N.’s refugee agency to “do everything in their power to make sure that the Bangladeshi authorities are respecting human rights.”

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Spokesperson Caroline Gluck said the agency has notified the authorities of a “small number” of reports of violence related to the smart card project. The agency has “been following up with them to ascertain the circumstances of what happened,” she told VOA.

Officials have responded that the incidents were “not linked” to the smart card project, she said.

She added, “The new ID card will enable refugees to be better protected and will streamline access to assistance and services.”

Mohammed Sheikh Anwar, a Rohingya activist, told VOA the Bangladeshi government “needs to keep the lower-level authorities in check. There should be an accountability measure.”

“Committing violence against genocide survivors to make them agree to the authorities’ terms is not the solution,” he added.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
A Rohingya refugee woman draws water from a hand pump at a temporary shelter in New Delhi, India.

Last week a Rohingya man named Ata Ullah said he was beaten at the office of an official at the Chakmarkul camp, the Guardian reported, after he failed to provide the official with a list of refugees.

Ata Ullah said in a video circulated on social media that when he couldn’t provide the official with a list he “was beaten with a large stick… they stepped on my neck, I could not stand it.”

Also Read: Bangladesh Government Build a New Rohingya Camp

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies and Rohingya refugees to “create any structures, infrastructure, or policies that suggest permanency.”

As a result, the report said, “refugee children do not go to school, but rather to ‘temporary learning centers,’ where ‘facilitators,’ not ‘teachers,’ preside over the classrooms. The learning centers are inadequate, only providing about two hours of instruction a day,” the report said. (VOA)