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DHAKA, Bangladesh – Six men believed to be from an Islamist militant group were found guilty and sentenced to death on Tuesday for the 2016 murder of a prominent Bangladeshi gay rights activist and his friend.

When Xulhaz Mannan, an activist sometimes referred to as Julhas Mannan, and his friend Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were hacked to death in April 2016, it was seen as another in a series of targeted attacks on academics, secular writers and activists who wrote critical opinions. of Islam. In the same month, an atheist blogger was shot and killed and a university professor was axed. Mr. Mannan’s murder was the first attack on a gay rights activist.

“They decided to kill the victims for their involvement in gay rights activism,” a special anti-terrorism court in Dhaka said on Tuesday, announcing the convictions and sentences. “All the convicts had the same intention. They wanted to prevent them from exercising their freedom and create fear among other people to express their opinion.

The court said the six men sentenced were members of Ansar al-Islam, a banned militant group that local media have linked to al-Qaeda. Four of the men are in custody, while two are still at large, including Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque, a former major sacked by the Bangladeshi army, who accused him in 2012 of being involved in an attempted coup. ‘State.

Mr Mannan had tried to organize a march for gay and transgender youth in April 2016, but police ordered its cancellation after threats of violence and fear it could spark a religious backlash. Later that month, Mr. Mannan and Mr. Tonoy were machined to death by a group of men who posed as couriers to gain access to Mr. Mannan’s apartment complex. The men were carrying packages containing machetes which police said were used in the attacks.

An openly gay man in a conservative society where same-sex relationships remain prohibited, Mr. Mannan launched a Bangladeshi magazine for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered, Roopbaan, in 2014. His vision statement read: ” We envision a world where the Bangladesh LGBT + community is socially accepted love and their human rights are guaranteed. Mr. Mannan had also worked for the United States Agency for International Development.

“This verdict is a strong message for the militant group which is operational in Bangladesh,” said Golam Sharuar Khan Zakir, the public prosecutor in the case. “We are satisfied with the verdict. We believe justice is being served for Xulhaz and Tonoy. “

Khairul Islam, a lawyer for the defendants, said he would appeal the case and denied that the men were from a militant group.

Saif Hasnat reported in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Suhasini raj from Lucknow, India.

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