Xulhaz Mannan, one of Bangladesh’s most prominent gay rights activists and an editor of his country’s first and only LGBT magazine, Rupban, was found hacked to death in an apartment in Dhaka on Monday. His companion had also been slain.
According to the U.S. State Department, Mannan was working for the U.S. embassy at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
A police spokesman for the capital city of Dhaka, Maruf Hossain Sordar, released the few details that are known. From witness statements Sordar gathered that five or six men dressed as couriers wounded a security guard to gain access to the apartment and then were heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” as they made their escape. Their victims were found hacked to death by sharp objects.
The suspects are believed to be Islamic militants and the killing of Mannan is only one of many recent murders in Bangladesh carried out in a similar manner.
“I am devastated by the brutal murder of Xulhaz Mannan and another young Bangladeshi,” said Marcia Bernicat, the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh. “We abhor this senseless act of violence and urge the government of Bangladesh in the strongest terms to apprehend the criminals behind these murders.”
On Monday another blogger, Imran Sarker, perhaps the best known blogger in Bangladesh, received a threatening phone call in which a male voice told him that he would be murdered very soon. Sarker told the AFP that he believes the threat is probably connected to the government, which is cracking down on secular activists, rather than an Islamic extremist group.
For the past two years, the LGBT magazine Mannan was working for held a gay rights Rainbow Rally on April 14. This year the event was banned by police, who arrested four activists attempting to hold the rally. Mannen told the press that he had received online threats from Islamists.
Violence against activists, liberals, Christians, Shia, Hindu and secular minorities is surging in Bangladesh with Islamist groups generally taking credit.
On Saturday the Islamic State claimed to be behind the death of a university professor who was also found hacked to death. In a statement through its news agency, IS said that it was his “calling to atheism” that made him a jihadi target.
When the Islamic State claimed to be responsible for the stabbing of a Christian convert in January, the Bangladeshi government denied the credibility of the statement, arguing that there is not an Islamic State presence in Bangladesh and that local political opponents must have been behind the attack.
Two weeks ago a secular blogger was killed in a gruesome machete attack, making Nazimuddin Samad the sixth atheist writer to be killed in 14 months. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for Samad’s killing, however Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan insisted that the foreign terror group was not responsible. Rather, Khan said, homegrown extremists were behind the assassination of 28-year-old Samad.
Khan also told CNN that Samad and other free-thinking bloggers are largely responsible for their own fate, saying that, “The bloggers, they should control their writing. Our country is a secular state. … I want to say that people should be careful not to hurt anyone by writing anything — hurt any religion, any people’s beliefs, any religious leaders.”
Refusing to comment on the killing, Khan made a statement that the investigation will center on “whether he has written anything objectionable in his blogs.”
The recent violence against atheist writers and publishers began in February 2015 when Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American was hacked to death at a book fair in Dhaka while his wife nearly suffered near-fatal injuries and lost her thumb. The Bangladeshi government did not condemn the killing. Instead, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina chose to blame the murdered man. “You can’t attack someone else’s religion. You’ll have to stop doing this. It won’t be tolerated if someone else’s religious sentiment is hurt,” the prime minister said.