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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)

  • 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.

Next Story

Indonesian Government Forces Instagram to Close Pro-LGBT Account

Nearly 88 per cent of Indonesia's over 260 million people are Muslims and the majority of them are said to be moderates

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pride flag
The rainbow pride flag of the LGBT community. wikimedia

Popular social network Instagram on Wednesday suspended an account which published comics discussing the problems and acceptance issues faced by the Muslim LGBT community in Indonesia.

The move came after the government asked the social network to remove the gay-friendly account that allegedly published cartoons containing pornographic material and riling many in the country – home to the world’s largest Muslim population.

The Ministry of Information and Communication alleged in a statement that the account, run by a user known only as @Alpantuni, violated the Electronic Information and Transactions Law by distributing content that “breached decency”, according to Efe news.

The Ministry thanked users for their complaints which “accelerated the process” against the handle.

LGBT, Thailand
Thai LGBT community participates in Gay Freedom Day Parade in Bangkok, Thailand. VOA

The comic strips, which showed Muslim gay characters and criticized homophobia and religious fundamentalism in the country, were targeted by a large number of Instagram users, who tagged the Ministry in their comments.

Instagram took the decision after Communication Minister Rudiantara on Monday threatened to shut down the platform in the country unless the company took steps to fulfil the Ministry’s demand.

Homosexuality is legal across Indonesia – except for in Sharia law-ruled Aceh province – and though the LGBT community has yet to meet acceptance, it had been tolerated in the past.

But the Electronic Information and Transactions (EIT) law and the law against pornography have often been used in Indonesia to criminalize homosexuality and the LGBT community, according to non-profit Human Rights Watch.

Edith Windsor
Edie dearly loved the LGBTQ community which loved her right back and held her in reverence for her fight for freedom, equality, and justice. Wikemedia

In February 2018, the government blocked more than 200 mobile applications and websites with content related to homosexuality.

Months later in October, the police arrested two people on the Java Island for running a Facebook page for gays, accusing them of publishing pornography and pressing charges under the EIT law.

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To “safeguard” moral norms on the Internet, the Ministry of Communication has also threatened to shut down other social networks and messaging apps in recent years apart from blocking hundreds of webpages and apps carrying content that promotes homosexuality.

Nearly 88 per cent of Indonesia’s over 260 million people are Muslims and the majority of them are said to be moderates. (IANS)