Terrorism waved its first wings in Bangladesh in the early 1980s. Now, it has been spreading throughout the country like a deadly transmittable virus. In 2005, the nation has experienced the most heinous terror attack in its history, with bombs detonating in 63 out of 64 districts. Within the same year, terrorist executions were prosecuted to prevent these attacks, though this attempt resulted ineffectively. From 2013, this heinous activity began in full swing in Bangladesh. They sailed with the intention of killing bloggers and authors who publicly criticized their religious beliefs, especially Muslim ideas. Five bloggers including Abhijit Roy were killed in 2015, in the name of dishonoring religious views. Later that year, an Ansar al-Islam militant organization assassinated an LGBT rights activist and his associate, in their own home, demonstrating their daring and brazen conduct at its most extreme.
The case was filed by Minhaz Mannan Emon, elder brother of Xulhaz Mannan in the Kalabagan, Dhaka police station on 26th April 2016, accusing unidentified assailants. Police pressed the charges under Anti-Terrorism Tribunal Act, 2009, against eight accused persons under section 6/8/9/10/12, for the offense of committing murder, member of the proscribed entity, criminal conspiracy, attempt to commit the offense, aid, and abetment, etc. The Anti-Terrorism Tribunal framed the charge on 19th January 2020 and in total 25 hearings were held.
Synopsis of the fact:
Xulhaz Mannan was a member of ‘Boys of Bangladesh’, country’s largest gay rights group and founder of ‘Roopban’ which known as Bangladesh’s first LGBT-themed magazine, embarked on 2014. He had worked as an officer of protocol for the US Ambassador. His close associate Mahboob Tonoy, was also a LGBT rights activist. Tonoy served the Lok Natyadal Theater group and worked as a senior editor of Roopban for several years. The goal of the magazine is to promote wider tolerance of people of various sexual orientations in Bangladesh. Both of them, lead the annual “Rainbow Rally” in Dhaka, which had been held on 14 April, since 2014. The rainbow rally claims to promote equality and freedom of choice of the members of the LGBT community. After organizing such an event, these two LGBT right defenders, received violent threats from extremist organizations. These organizations declared that both the magazine and the rally were Anti-Islamic. From then on, a proscribed group known as Ansar-ul-Islam targeted to eliminate them. On 25th April 2016, the attackers managed to enter the building of Xulhaz Mannan, by pretending in front of the guard, that they have to deliver a courier parcel for Xulhaz Mannan. After a while, Tonoy also entered Xulhaz Mannan’s residence. Both Tonoy and Zulhax were then attacked by the murderer who used a knife as the murdering weapon. Both of them suffered from severe wounds in their head and neck from the attack and this incident led to the demise of Tonoy and Zulhax. They both were killed inside Xulhaz Mannan’s own house. A patrolling police officer, who tried to stop the assailants, was also injured in the process.
- Whether the accused had malicious intention to kill them or not?
- Whether accused are liable for terrorist activity or not?
- Whether or not accused committed crimes by supporting and being member of proscribed entity?
Md. Majibur Rahman, the Honorable judge of Anti- Terrorism Tribunal court, handed down the verdict on 31st August 2021, in presence of four of the eight accused. The court sentenced to all the six accused to death, under Section 6(2) and fined 50.000 (Fifty Thousand) taka for murdering with malicious intention. The tribunal also ordered imprisonment of six additional months for each of the convicts under section: 8 of the same Act. Two other accused were acquitted of the charges as the allegations brought against them were not proven beyond doubt. The court also issued arrest warrant for the absconded accused.
Reasoning of the decision:
The court observed that the accused had a common purpose in order to instill fear in to jeopardize public safety through the murders. The accused had the same intention, as there are no way to categorize their roles as major or minor and as a member of Ansar-al-Islam, all of them played a key role in the assassination of Xulhaz-Tonoy. That is why, they all deserved equal punishment. The judge observed that, accused labeled the victims as associates of homosexuals and brutally murders them as decision of militant outfit, which cannot be taken lightly. The murder was pre-planned and also, they become habitual offender in a sense, that the four accused were already sentenced to death for the murder of Jagriti Prokashoni publisher, Faisal Arefin Dipon and writer-blogger Avijit Roy. The justice will be served only if they are hanged. The court decided to provide capital punishment to serve as a model execution, discouraging such horrific behavior which is absolutely not eligible for pity and forgiveness.
Significance of the case:
Bangladesh, being a secular and democratic country, guarantees the freedom of expression and the right to have personal beliefs. However, since 2013, over a hundred bloggers, journalists, and other activists have been detained under Article: 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act, implying an unwillingness to identify or prosecute the extremist group. More pernicious is the higher authority’s negative rhetoric directed at the bloggers- urging them to essentially self-censor and desist from writing. For the sake of avoiding provoking cruelty, the state can no longer repress or ignore critical thinker or distinctive beliefs any more. It is also one of the significant human rights. Perhaps, this landmark verdict of this case may alter the equation contradictory dilemmas and create a nexus between freedom of thought and the abolition of religious fanaticism. It demonstrates how Bangladesh is sincerely implementing zero tolerance regarding religious militant.
The horrific assassination represents an evident surge in religious violence and terror activities, which is a fundamental violation of law. Murder is never justifiable in any sense. It is best to recognize the problem as soon as possible and address it through institutional reform that enhance the democratic character of Bangladesh.
Writer: Fatima Yesmine Eva, Legal Assistant of Dhaka Legal Aid Office (Intern, USAID), Student of Department of Law, East West University.
 Bangladesh: protect Freedom of Expression, May 9, 2018 <https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/09/bangladesh-protect-freedom-expression>, Accessed on 21st September 9.00 pm.