Roopbaan Statement on the Bangladeshi Court’s Decision on Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy Murder Case


September 2, 2021

[বাংলা সংস্করণ পড়ুন এখানে]

After more than five years of protracted trial, a Bangladeshi court sentenced six members of an Islamist militant group to death over the 2016 murder of our friends, queer kins, and co-organizers, Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy. Given our past demand for the trial’s completion, we take hope from the court’s decision. We also remain cautious and continue to follow the legal process. It is not time to close the books and go home. The mastermind of the killings (Syed Ziaul Haq) remains at large. The decision may be appealed in a higher court. The details of the verdict, particularly the legal rationale behind the court’s decision, remain unknown. 

Ensuring justice is more than ordering retributive measures such as death sentences. The tribunal has reportedly cited the deterrent effect of the death penalty in this case. However, long-established research finds no firm evidence that the death penalty acts as a deterrent. It is, therefore, unsurprising that in media reports the sentenced are smiling and wholeheartedly accepting their death sentences. Other religious extremists will not be deterred by the death sentences. More importantly, religious extremists are not the only agents of queerphobia. Through existing laws and policing practices, the Bangladeshi state enables queerphobia. The Bangladeshi state continues to uphold the colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality. We also cannot forget that it is the Bangladeshi state which stifles freedom of expression and has cracked down on political dissenters and activists. The state passed legislation such as the Digital Security Act that criminalizes any action that leads to “hurt to religious sentiment” among other vague offenses. The resulting atmosphere of surveillance and fear severely restricts organizing for LGBTQ+ rights in the country.     

We, queer relatives of the victims, hold that justice should be about ensuring rights and protection for LGBTQ+ people in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi state must ensure an atmosphere of safety for dissenters and activists, including LGBTQ+ activists so that we can organize for change. In addition, attention should be given to the everyday struggles of Bangladeshi LGBTQ+ communities.  On a regular basis and particularly during the pandemic, our community members are enduring hunger, houselessness, unemployment, workplace discrimination, mental health crises, medical insecurities, and social stigma. LGBTQ+ activists live under fear of arbitrary arrest, surveillance, violence, legal harassment, and state persecution. When LGBTQ+ activists face threats from religious extremists, they cannot approach the Bangladeshi police without fearing severe repercussions. Our exiled political activists cannot return to Bangladesh. As Roopbaan, we cannot resume our regular activities in Bangladesh. 

The court’s current decision has been a tremendously emotional moment for us. Many believed that the case would be neglected and forgotten. The resilience of LGBTQ+ activists and allies in and outside Bangladesh has led up to this moment. But we are still far away from realizing a just Bangladeshi society where we thrive and live freely. For that world of freedom, we must continue to care for each other and organize ourselves.