Bangladesh (HRC) – On Thursday, May 18, Bangladeshi authorities stormed a community center on the outskirts of Dhaka and arrested 28 men who were attending a private gathering. Even more shocking than the arrests, authorities outed these men, and local media published information on their identities. Despite being charged with illegal drug use, police forcefully made them stand in front of the media during a press conference where police outed them as ‘homosexual’ men. This is the first time police held a press conference where they publicly outed members of the LGBTQ community. Local media continue to show videos and pictures of arrestees from the press conference, videos of which have since gone viral and further jeopardize the lives of these men.
In a country where LGBTQ people face tremendous violence and discrimination, private gatherings and parties have long served as a safe shelter for the community to meet, socialize, and organize. While this isn’t the first time police have raided LGBTQ gatherings, this is one of the first times police have made arrests after a raid.
This is a gross violation of the basic human rights, putting the lives of these men in extreme danger. This is also a new level of pressure on the LGBTQ community in Bangladesh, and the community is terrified. Bangladeshis recently commemorated the one-year anniversary of the murders of two gay men, Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Tonoy, for their LGBTQ work. Given last year’s murders, this brazen act will no doubt threaten the lives of these 28 men.
Police detained all men, mostly aged 20-25, for two days before going to court on May 20. Police sought to remand each of the 28 arrestees for 10 days to get more information on gay groups in Bangladesh, which had nothing to do with the original charge of possessing illegal drugs. (Remand is when a court sends an accused person back into custody to await further proceedings. This procedure has been used by police in Bangladesh to extract confessions through coercion.) The Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court of Dhaka rejected bail petition for all and approved two days remand for four men in a case filed under the Narcotics Control Act.
Bangladesh is one of several South Asian countries that continue to criminalize LGBTQ people using an archaic British colonial-era law known as Section 377. Despite the presence of several LGBTQ rights organizations in the country, sexual and gender minorities in the country face severe social and economic challenges as well as violence, discrimination and even murder.
HRC urges the Bangladeshi government to take immediate action to uphold the human rights of these men by stopping targeted arrests of people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, respecting their rights to privacy, and releasing them immediately.
HRC Global advocates for LGBTQ equality around the world through fellowships, partnerships and research. We stand with Bangladeshi advocates as they continue their important work to bring equality for LGBTQ people in their country. Read more about our work here.
This report prepared by Jay Gilliam, Senior Global Programs Officer, with contributions from HRC Global Fellow for Human Rights Campaign