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6 Sentenced to Death in Bangladesh for Killing of Gay Rights Activist

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DHAKA, Bangladesh — Six men said to belong to an Islamist militant group were convicted and sentenced to death on Tuesday over the 2016 killings 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 yet another in a series of targeted attacks against academics, secular writers and activists who wrote views critical of Islam. That same month, an atheist blogger was shot and killed, and a university professor was hacked to death. Mr. Mannan’s killing was the first attack on a gay rights activist.

“They decided to slay the victims for their involvement in gay rights’ activism,” a special antiterrorism tribunal in Dhaka said on Tuesday in announcing the convictions and sentences. “All the convicts had the same intention. They wanted to prevent them from practicing their freedom and create fear among the other people from expressing their opinion.”

The court said the six men who were convicted were members of Ansar al-Islam, a banned militant group that local news outlets have connected to Al Qaeda. Four of the men are in custody, while two remain at large, including Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque, a former major fired by the Bangladeshi Army, which accused him in 2012 of involvement in an attempted coup.

Mr. Mannan had tried to organize a march for gay and transgender youths in April 2016, but the police ordered it canceled after threats of violence and fears it could cause a religious backlash. Later in the month, Mr. Mannan and Mr. Tonoy were hacked to to death by a group of men who had posed as couriers to gain access to Mr. Mannan’s apartment complex. The men carried parcels containing machetes that the police said were used in the attacks.

An openly gay man in a conservative society where homosexual relations remain outlawed, Mr. Mannan started a Bangladeshi gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender magazine, Roopbaan, in 2014. Its vision statement read, “We envision a world the Bangladeshi LGBT+ community’s freedom to love is socially accepted and their human rights are guaranteed.” Mr. Mannan had also worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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

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

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

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