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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)

1 COMMENT

  1. 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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Rohingya Camp Refugees face Challenges in Family Planning Brought up by Bangladesh Officials

The Bangladesh Govt is promoting the use of contraceptives to promote family planning among Rohingya Muslims but there are still challenges to be faced

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One of the Rohingya Refugees settled in the hut with their fifth child
One of the Rohingya Refugees settled in the hut with their fifth child . BENAR.

Bangladesh, November 14: As Bangladesh’s government struggled this week to persuade residents of overcrowded refugee camps to use contraceptives as part of a new push to promote family planning among Rohingya Muslims, Nurul Islam’s wife gave birth to their fifth child.

Three-day-old Ayesha was born Tuesday in a tiny, one-room hut in Teknaf upazila (sub-district) in Cox’s Bazar district that her parents and four brothers have called home for the past two months since they fled a fresh cycle of violence and atrocities allegedly committed against the Rohingya minority by the military in neighboring Myanmar.

Islam was elated at what he described as his “latest achievement.”

“Having a child shows that you are a strong man. I now have five of them,” the 32-year-old told BenarNews proudly. “And I will try for more,” he added with an air of confidence.

Unlike most other members of his community, Islam said, he was aware of birth control procedures but wasn’t interested because the practice was “considered a sin.”

“I know what a condom is… but have never used one,” he said – a telling statement uttered by a majority of Rohingya that prompted the family planning office of Cox’s Bazar to introduce birth control steps in about 15 refugee camps sheltering nearly 1 million members of the displaced group.

More than 600,000 of them, including about 20,000 pregnant women, have arrived in southeastern Bangladesh from Buddhist-majority Myanmar since its military launched a counter-offensive in response to insurgent attacks in Rakhine state on Aug. 25, according to the latest estimates from the United Nations.

Rohingya Refugee Camps set up by Bangladesh Government
Rohingya Refugee Camps set up by Bangladesh Government. Wikimedia.

‘Deep-rooted problem’

Officials with the Directorate of Family Planning, which is connected to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, launched the birth control program in Rohingya camps in September.

But soon after, they realized they were “only scratching the surface of a deep-rooted problem,” Pintu Kanti Bhattacharjee, the department’s deputy director, told BenarNews.

“A majority of Rohingya, who are largely uneducated, are not aware of birth control measures. The ones who are aware are convinced that family planning methods conflict with their faith,” he said, adding, “We then realized we were faced with a huge challenge.”

Before the refugee crisis exploded in late August, Bhattacharjee’s department had about 50 workers.

“We have hired about 200 people over the past few weeks and still feel the need for more staff,” he said. The near 250 health workers operate out of 13 offices in Ukhia and Teknaf sub-districts and “go door-to-door to educate Rohingya about the benefits of family planning.”

“So far, we have managed to talk about birth control with 150,000 Rohingya. We convinced 7,500 of them to take contraceptive measures like condoms, pills and injections,” Bhattacharjee said.

‘I would like to opt for birth control

Islam, the refugee who became a father for the fifth time this week, was among the unconvinced multitude.

“Our children are Allah’s gift to us. We will accept as many as he gives us,” he said, as he prepared to walk 1 km (0.6 mile) to the nearest food distribution center to bring his family something to eat.

“Allah will take care of them,” he added, before disappearing into the crowd of refugees rushing to get ration supplies.

Islam’s wife, Amina Khatun, 24, said she did not agree with her husband.

“If they [family planning workers] come here, I would like to opt for birth control,” she told BenarNews.

She had their first child when she was 16 years old, two years after getting married. Over the next eight years she delivered four more children. All of them, including the latest addition to their family, were born at home with help from women in the neighborhood.

“It’s not easy to take care of so many children. And my husband wants to have more,” Khatun said exhaustedly as she breastfed her newborn.

Abdul Muktalif, 57, a camp leader in Teknaf, said that all Rohingya couples had “at least five children in hopes that the more kids they have, the more money they will bring in when they grow up.”

Muktalif, who has been living at the Leda camp for the last 14 years, has 15 children – the youngest 1 year old – from three wives.

Officials weigh voluntary sterilization

Bhattacharjee said his office was mulling the idea of providing voluntary sterilization to Rohingya but “cannot implement it unless the Ministry (of Health and Family Welfare) approves it.”

In a statement issued Thursday, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said: “Simply offering sterilization would be a narrow and unethical approach.

“Family planning is a matter of individual choice, should be completely voluntary, and women, girls and couples should have access to the widest method mix for them to choose from complemented by adequate information and counseling on available methods and services,” it said. (Benar)

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India will soon ask Malaysia to extradite Preacher Zakir Naik

India will soon approach Malaysia with a request to extradite hardline Islamic preacher Zakir Naik.

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India will Request Malayasia to extradite Zakir Naik
India will Request Malayasia to extradite Zakir Naik. wikimedia commons
  • India will seek the Malaysian government’s help in extraditing televangelist Zakir Naik who faces charges of money laundering and inciting hatred through his sermons broadcast on Peace TV, the foreign ministry said Friday.

Zakir Naik obtained permanent residency in Malaysia 

Officials will approach their Malaysian counterparts with the extradition request sometime within the next two weeks, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar told a weekly news briefing in New Delhi.

“Any formal request seeking the assistance of a foreign government in cases of extradition requires a completion of the internal legal process involving consultation with other ministries involved in the case,” Kumar said.

“At this stage, we are nearing the completion of this process and as soon as this process is complete we will be making an official request to the Malaysian government in this matter,” Kumar said. “It could be a couple of days or a couple of weeks. But it would be soon and the nature of our request would also be clear.”

Naik fled India a month before terrorist carried out a massacre at a café in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in July 2016. This week, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister said the Islamic preacher legally obtained permanent residency in the country, and that Malaysian authorities would arrest him only if he broke local laws or was found to be involved in terrorist activities.

Naik’s speeches allegedly inspired some of the militants who carried out the siege at the Holey Artisan Bakery café in Dhaka, where 29 people, including 20 hostages and five gunmen, were killed.

In November 2016, the Indian government banned Naik’s Mumbai-based NGO Islamic Research Foundation, which partly funded the Peace TV channel that is banned in India, Bangladesh and several other countries.

Kumar said because the Indian government had knowledge of Naik’s whereabouts, the legal procedures would be tailored to requirements between the two countries in their extradition treaty.

Advocate challenges charges

“Naik is being hounded because he hails from a minority community. The charges that the investigating agencies are trying to frame are all stale and are hardly incriminating,” advocate S. Hariharan told BenarNews in a phone interview from Delhi.

“The charges lack veracity and would not stand scrutiny in the court of law. We will be challenging the extradition and deportation.”

Last week, the Indian government filed a 61-page charge sheet against Naik alleging he was involved in a criminal conspiracy by lauding terrorist organizations. In April, a non-bailable warrant was issued against him in an alleged case of money laundering through his NGO and a shell company.

In Malaysia meanwhile, the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) has urged the government to ignore any request from India to extradite Zakir Naik, Reuters reported.

“For Muslim individuals, even when they won by using arguments and not weapons, like Dr. Zakir Naik, they are considered terrorists because their arguments cannot be countered,” PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang wrote last week in an opinion piece published in Harakah Daily.(BenarNews)

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Iran Accuses CIA for spreading ‘Fake News’ about Tehran’s support to Al Qaeda

The document, part of nearly 47,000 documents released by the CIA, quoted the group's slain leader Osama bin Laden as saying: "Anyone who wants to strike America, Iran is ready to support him and help him with their frank and clear rhetoric."

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Al Qaeda
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has posted a tweet after the release of a 19-page Al Qaeda report in Arabic, which claimed Iran supported the extremist group before the 9/11 attacks. VOA

Tehran, November 3, 2017 : Iran on Friday accused the CIA of spreading “fake news” about Tehrans support to the Al Qaeda, describing the claims as an attempt to “whitewash” the truth about the role US allies had in the September 11, 2001 attacks

“A record low for the reach of petrodollars: CIA & FDD fake news w/ selective Al Qaeda docs re: Iran can’t whitewash role of US allies in 9/11,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on his Twitter account on Friday.

Zarif posted the tweet after the release of a 19-page Al Qaeda report in Arabic, which claimed Iran supported the extremist group before the 9/11 attacks.

The document, part of nearly 47,000 documents released by the CIA, quoted the group’s slain leader Osama bin Laden as saying: “Anyone who wants to strike America, Iran is ready to support him and help him with their frank and clear rhetoric.”

It claimed that Iran and Al Qaeda could overlook their differences and join forces when it came to confronting the US.

The US government’s 9/11 Commission has made similar allegations, saying Iranian officials met Al Qaeda leaders in Sudan in either 1991 or early 1992.

Last year, a New York court ordered Iran to pay $7.5 billion in damages to the families of the 9/11 victims.

The release of the files comes as US President Donald Trump’s administration seeks to ramp up pressure on Iran, refusing to certify a landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

The Fars news agency, which is close to Iranian conservatives, said on Thursday that the selective publication of documents by the CIA related to Al Qaeda was part of efforts “to put pressure on Iran”. (IANS)