DHAKA: Xulhaz Mannan was a rallying figure for Bangladesh’s marginalized but increasingly outspoken lesbian, gay and transgender community, but his brutal murder has dealt a huge blow to the movement and forced some of its leaders underground.

Mannan, who founded Bangladesh’s first magazine for gays and lesbians which he used to launch a vibrant rights movement in the deeply conservative, Muslim-majority country, was hacked to death on Monday along with a fellow activist. Friends and fellow campaigners this week rushed to remove all trace of their activism from social media sites, fearing they could themselves become targets. “Everyone felt safe because of him. But he is gone, so everyone is scared,” one fellow activist who helped set up the magazine told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I’m sure everyone (is now) facing the same devastating situation.” A group of unidentified attackers carrying machetes and guns murdered Mannan and Mahbub Tonoy after gaining access to his Dhaka apartment on Monday night. It was the latest in a series of killings of secular bloggers and liberal activists in Bangladesh that have caused global outrage, and sparked fears that the attackers are expanding their range of targets to include openly gay people.

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) has said it killed the men, accusing them of working to “promote homosexuality” in Bangladesh. The government, however, says homegrown Islamists were responsible. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday blamed the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist ally, Jamaat-e-Islami. Kyle Knight, who works on LGBT issues for Human Rights Watch, condemned the government for failing to protect activists and said the murders had stoked fears in the small community. “In recent months LGBT activists had been receiving threats from extremists, and had taken steps to secure themselves- including by going into hiding,” he said in an email response to AFP.

“But discretion on the part of LGBT activists and individuals in the face of persistent abuse and heightened security concerns should not be confused with abolition-indeed some courageous individuals have already indicated their intent to redouble their efforts.” — AFP