Xulhaz Mannan, the editor of Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, was hacked to death in his apartment Monday in the latest of a long string of deadly attacks against secular bloggers and activists.
According to the Guardian, the six attackers posed as couriers in order to gain access to Mannan’s apartment in the Kalabagan area of the capital city, Dhaka. The Dhaka Tribune identified a second body as Tanay Mojumdar, a friend of Mannan’s, who was also inside the apartment.
Mannan ran a transgender magazine Roopbaan and previously worked at the U.S. embassy.
Mannan was also responsible Bangladesh’s annual Rainbow Rally, which police banned this year as part of widespread security measures. Mannan told Agence France-Presse that they had received threats online from Islamists. “They have even set up an online group to threaten us,” he said.
Police did not immediately say who carried out the attack, but the killings of Mannan and Tanay bear a chilling similarity to other recent attacks in Bangladesh, which have targeted secular and atheist writers.
Sara Hossain, a friend of Mannan’s, told the New York Times that this was the first time extremists appeared to target someone for his sexual identity. In Bangladesh, homosexuality remains illegal and highly controversial.
“It’s a new shift, a new turn,” she said. “This is something different now.”
The deaths of Mannan and his friend comes two days after Rezaul Karim Siddique, a 58-year-old English professor, was also hacked to death with machetes by suspected Islamist militants. So-called Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the killing, BBC reported, but the Bangladeshi government maintains the group has no presence in the country.
“The brutal killing of an editor of an LGBT publication and his friend, days after a university professor was hacked to death, underscores the appalling lack of protection being afforded to a range of peaceful activists in the country,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia director.
“There have been four deplorable killings so far this month alone. … The authorities must strongly condemn these horrific attacks, something they have failed to do so far,” she added.
The fourth killing refers to the death of Bangladeshi law student Nazimuddin Samad earlier this month, who was also hacked with machetes – and later shot in Dhaka – after expressing secular views online.
The series of massacres trace back to February 2015, when Bangladeshi-American writer and activist Avijit Roy was hacked to death at a book fair in Dhaka. His wife, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, was gravely injured but managed to escape.
Later that year, four prominent secular bloggers were also killed with machetes. All of the bloggers were active critics of extremist Muslim ideologies, and had all appeared on a widely circulated list of 84 “atheist bloggers” drawn up by Islamic groups in 2013, according to BBC.
Additional attacks have targeted members of religious minorities, as well as the killings of an Italian aid worker and a Japanese farmer.
Around the world, critics are outraged by the Bangladeshi government’s failure to properly address the attacks. Since the first killing in February 2015, not a single person has been prosecuted for their crimes. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have been calling on Bangladeshi authorities to prosecute the killers, and provide better protection to activists who have received threats.