On 25 April Xulhaz Mannan, the editor of Roopbaan, the country’s first magazine for lesbian gay and transgender people, was hacked to death in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital. Homosexuality is illegal in Bangladesh.
This is the sixteenth murder in a series of Islamist machete killings over the past three years. Other targets have included secular bloggers and liberal intellectuals. Responsibility for all the attacks has been claimed by Islamic State or Ansar al-Islam, a local chapter of al-Qaida. Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Awami League and Prime Minister since 2009, has said she will not be held responsible for the deaths of people with objectionable opinions, and recently described the bloggers’ writings as “porn”.
The government denies that Islamic State or al-Qaeda is active in the country. The Awami League won rigged elections in 2014 and has repressed the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and intimidated the press. Sheikh Hasina has looked for legitimacy and support from Islamists. In 1988 Islam was made the state religion in Bangladesh by a military government. Ruling parties have often used religion demagogically to shore up their regimes. This spate of killings began in February 2013 following protests which demanded the hanging of Abdul Quader Mollah, leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, for war crimes committed during Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.
Many of those on trial for similar crimes have been associated with the Islamist opposition to the Awami League. In response an Islamist organisation, Hefazat-e-Islam, drew up a list of 84 secular and atheist bloggers and demanded that the government move against them for publishing blasphemous material. Five of the victims since 2013 were on that list.