April 2016 was a dark time for Bangladesh’s LGBTQ+ community. On April 25, 2016, Bangladesh’s top gay rights activist, Xulhaz Mannan, was brutally murdered along with actor Rabbi Tonoy, identified by the local media as Tanay Mojumdar. Both are figureheads, pillars in Bangladesh’s thriving LGBTQ+ community.
Mannan and Tonoy were 35-years old and 25-years old at the time of their murder. Both were instrumental in the creation and publication of Roopbaan’s magazine of the same title. Roopbaan is initially a non-political, non-profit advocacy group that aims to fight for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community by raising “awareness about Bangladeshis who represent sexual and gender diversity, and advocate for their human right to love.” Mannan describes Roopbaan as a means of “promoting love and promoting the right to love.”
Marcia Bernicat, the US Ambassador to Bangladesh at that time, condemned Mannan’s untimely death calling it a brutal murder. “I am devastated,” Bernicat, who also employed Mannan as a protocol officer, said. Ansar Al Islam, a Bangladesh-based offshoot of the Islamic State, claims responsibility for the murder and other attacks targeting atheists and other secular activists.
Although there was no arrest in the same year the victims were murdered, eight suspects were charged with murder in 2019. Mohibul Islam Khan, a Deputy Police Commissioner, informed a local news outlet that four men were arrested, but eight were suspected.
More than half a decade passed, the Special Anti-Terrorism Tribunal has sentenced six men out of the eight charged for Mannan and Tonoy’s murder. Golam Sarwar Khan, Public Prosecutor, said that only six were found guilty out of the eight suspects. The verdict led to the death sentence for the following individuals: Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haq (Syed Ziaul Haque Zia), Mozammel Hossain, Arafat Rahman, Sheikh Abdullah, Asadullah, and Akram Hossain.
Together with a guilty verdict for the murder of the activists, the individuals were also charged for a series of murders, including other activists and bloggers.
Two of the six individuals that are sentenced to death are still at large. Syed Ziaul Haq, a former army major, is said to have orchestrated the series of murders.
Shahanur Islam, the Bangladesh Institute for Human Rights executive director, said he is happy with the sentence, claiming that the community finally received the justice they deserve. However, Islam added that he would have preferred a life sentence rather than a death sentence.