Six Bangladesh militants sentenced to death for killing gay activists
Six members of an Islamist militant group were sentenced to death on Tuesday by a court in Bangladesh for the brutal killing of two gay rights campaigners, five years ago.
Xulhaz Mannan, 35, and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, 25, were hacked to death in Mannan’s apartment in the capital Dhaka in April 2016, in an attack claimed by Ansar Al Islam, the regional arm of al Qaeda.
Mannan was the editor of Bangladesh’s first magazine for gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) people and Rabbi was a film actor.
The killings were part of a series of attacks on atheist bloggers, academics and other minorities that shocked the South Asian nation of 170 million and led many to go into hiding or flee abroad.
Public prosecutor, Golam Sarwar Khan, said of the eight defendants in the case, six were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.
The Special Anti-Terrorism Tribunal also convicted the six for belonging to a terrorist organisation, the al Qaeda-inspired domestic militant organisation, Ansar Ullah Bangla Team.
Khan said the police believed the group was responsible for the murders of more than a dozen secular activists and bloggers.
The men’s defence lawyer, Nazrul Islam said they would appeal their sentences.
According to Khan, the tribunal acquitted two other defendants, who are on the run and were tried in absence.
One of them is Syed Ziaul Haq, a sacked army major, believed to be the group’s leader and accused of masterminding the killings.
Between 2013 and 2016, a spate of attacks targeting secular activists and religious minorities were claimed by Islamic State or al Qaeda-aligned groups.
The most serious attack came in July 2016, when gunmen stormed a cafe in the diplomatic quarter of Dhaka and killed 22 people, most of them foreigners.
After the cafe siege, more than 100 suspected militants were killed and hundreds more were arrested, as the government cracked down on Islamist groups, as it sought to preserve its image as a moderate Muslim nation.