Newcastle asylum seeker speaks about losing friends in brutal homophobic attack

A queer activist has opened up about the brutal homophobic murder of two of his close friends.

Mazharul Islam, who goes by 'Maz', had to flee his home country Bangladesh after the attack of Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Tonoy in Dhaka 2016.

“I saw my friend was watching the telly," he said. "I went to that room and already it's in the news headlines that Xulhaz and one of our friends was brutally murdered.

"We can see the police moving the bodies.. we couldn’t like talk to each other, we were just watching the news and we are just crying…. And we didn’t know if they’re like after us."

Maz was close friends with Xulhaz. Credit: Maz Islam.

On 25 April 2016, Mr Mannan and Mr Tonoy were killed in a brutal machete attack by religious extremists after promoting LGBQ+ rights in Bangladesh.

Mr Mannan, 35, launched Bangladesh's first and only LGBTQ+ magazine, Roopbaan in 2014.

He has been described by Mr Islam as one of "the bravest souls" with the "kindest hearts."

Mr Tonoy, 26, was also involved in promoting LGBTQ+ rights in the country.

A court convicted six men and sentenced them to death for the murders on 31 August 2021.

Maz had to seek asylum in the UK after the attack, leaving his family behind. Credit: Maz Islam.

In 68 countries around the world, it is illegal to be gay - including Bangladesh.

Now based in Newcastle, Mr Islam has been reflecting on the struggles of growing up as a gay man in Bangladesh.

“So in childhood, in my subconscious mind, I started hating myself just because of being gay

"I had to grow up with that feeling, with that struggle" he said.

This changed when Mr Islam joined Boys of Bangladesh (BoB) - which is considered to be one of the first online platforms for the Bangladeshi queer community.

BoB started in 2002, and had been a safe space for gay men to talk openly about their sexuality, as well as being a part of social events.

Mr Islam has been continuing his campaign for justice and equality since moving to the UK.

Despite struggling with his own experiences, he is optimistic for a future of a world without any inequality, discrimination and hatred.

“I’m very positive and hopeful, and no changes come overnight" he said.

  • He hopes his story will inspire others to talk more openly about their sexuality.

According to figures from the Home Office, there were 9,206 applications for asylum based on sexual orientation since 2016.

Only 3,013 of those were accepted. The rest, 60%, were rejected.

It comes as Sunderland is hosting the first ever International LGBTQIA+ Community Conference.

The Safer To Be Me Symposium is being led by North East human rights charity ReportOUT, and Sunderland University.

Drew Dalton, founder of ReportOUT, said: “Behind every statistic we see lies a voice, lies a person who we need to be remembering when we listen to this hostile narrative of people seeking asylum in the UK."

  • Drew explains why it is important organisations like ReportOUT exists.

Mr Dalton added that there are many ways to show support to the LGBTQI+ community at both a local, and global level.

He said: "First of all make your voice heard, challenge any homophobia, biphobia and transphobia that you see happening all around you.”

ReportOUT have been protecting the human rights of sexual and gender minorities in the United Kingdom and globally since 2019.

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