Bangladesh activists seek funds to fight anti-LGBT law

Banner seeks the repeal of Bangladesh's anti-LGBT law.
Banner seeks the repeal of Bangladesh’s anti-LGBT law. (Click the image to visit the fundraising site.)

Bangladeshi activists are seeking to raise £25,000 to mount a legal challenge to the country’s colonial-era anti-LGBT law.

Activists Riaz Osmani, currently in London, and Shahanur Islam in Dhaka, Bangladesh, launched the campaign May 15 on the JustGiving.com online fundraising site.

This is the text of their appeal:

Weʼre raising £25,000 to initiate LEGAL BATTLE against section 377 of Penal Code in Bangladesh. This law criminalises the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Most Commonwealth countries have inherited a Victorian era section 377 of Penal Code which criminalises sexual acts “against the laws of nature”. Many such independent countries with repressive religions have retained this penal code and have used it to suppress any notions of citizen’s rights for the local LGBTQIA+ population.

Due to section 377 in Bangladesh’s penal code, homosexuals in the country are criminals by definition and homosexual acts are punishable with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. Moreover, there are no rights to organise, speak up and most importantly seek protection from the law enforcement agencies, should gay people find themselves under threat from Islamic fundamentalists.

Victims of the anti-gay attack on April 25, 2016, in Bangladesh
Victims of the anti-gay attack on April 25, 2016, in Bangladesh

The last factor played into the incident on April 25, 2016 when a prominent gay rights activists Xulhaz Mannan and gay cultural activist Mahbub Tonoy were mercilessly hacked to death by such militants in Xulhaz’s home in Dhaka.

No government in Bangladesh of any political stripe has dared to repeal section 377 out of fear of backlash from Muslim fundamentalists and also out of a misguided notion of what is culturally acceptable.

The only way to change the situation is through the legal channel – that is by filing a writ petition to Bangladesh’s court system to declare section 377 of Penal Code to be against the constitution of the country. Such an argument can indeed be made as has been done in a similar case in India.

Bangladesh’s secular constitution does not allow the selective denial of rights to a group of her citizens by virtue of any criteria. It is expected that the lower courts of the country will not rule in favour of this private petition by us. Therefore we plan to take the matter up all the way to the Supreme Court.

For more information, see “Penal Code 377 – The Bane of Bangladesh’s LGBTQI Population” by Riaz Osmani.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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