By the Associated Press
Authorities in Bangladesh on Friday arrested 27 men on suspicion of being gay, a criminal offense in the Muslim-majority country, and plan to charge them with drug possession, an official said Friday.
A commander of the Rapid Action Battalion, an elite police unit that made the arrests, said the suspects, mostly students aged 20-30 years, had traveled from across the country and were picked up in a raid on a community center at Keraniganj, outside the nation’s capital, early Friday.
Zahangir Hossain Matobbar said they recovered illegal drugs and condoms in their possession and plan to charge them with drug offenses and not homosexuality because they were detained before they engaged in sex.
The agency also arrested the owner of the community center where the suspects used to gather every two months and stay overnight for partying.
Last year, suspected militants killed a leading LGBT activist and his friend in Dhaka.
The 35-year-old Xulhaz Mannan, a USAID official, was hacked to death in April last year at his home. He had founded the country’s only LGBT magazine Roopbaan and was a leading organizer of gays, who are ostracized in Bangladesh.
Since then, many of the gays and lesbians have left the country after they received death threats. Many still live double lives to avoid reprisals.
Homosexuality is a crime in Bangladesh under a law dating back to the British colonial rule, and it has never been amended. The law is rarely enforced.
Niloy Neel was attacked at his home in the city’s Goran area.
He is the fourth secularist blogger to have been killed this year by suspected Islamist militants in Bangladesh.
Imran H Sarkar, head of the Bangladesh Blogger and Activist Network, told the BBC that Mr Neel had been an anti-extremist voice of reason.
“He was the voice against fundamentalism and extremism and was even a voice for minority rights – especially women’s rights and the rights of indigenous people,” he said.
BBC World Service South Asia editor Charles Haviland says that, like previous victims, Mr Neel was not only secular but atheist and, like two of the others, he was from a Hindu, not a Muslim, background.