By Nadeem Qadir;
For some, life is never easy, but not by choice. Mazharul Islam, a 36-year-old man was targeted by a group of unknown people (Islamic Terrorists) for his sexual orientation, which he had no choice but to keep a secret from friends and family in Bangladesh.
He fled Bangladesh in 2016 just hours after the bloody killings of his two LGBT activist friends Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy.
Now settled in London, Mazhar continues to carry out his mission to fight for justice for his friends and the rights for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual (LGBT) community.
In 2018, he was the first-ever Bangladeshi to receive the “ATTITUDE PRIDE AWARD” in 2018, for protesting in front of the Bangladesh High Commission in London, pleading for justice for his two friends and their work within the community. Mazhar continues to dedicate his life to make positive changes in Bangladeshi LGBT community and to keep his friend’s legacy alive.
Attitude Magazine was founded in 1994 and is the UK’s best-selling gay magazine. Attitude is renowned for its high-profile celebrity events and is the most popular gay magazine.
Celebrities who have appeared on the cover include Prince William, Madonna, David Beckham, Lady Gaga, Rupaul, David Cameron, Nick Jonas, Naomi Campbell, Elton John and many more. In 2017 late Princess Diana was awarded the “ATTITUDE LEGACY AWARD” for her long standing charity contribution work for those struggling with AIDS.
Nadeem Qadir, a senior freelance journalist, spoke with Mazhar recently in London’s South Kensington. Here are the experts:
NQ: Mazhar, how are you feeling two years after fleeing Bangladesh, after Islamist terrorists killed your friends and began searching for your other friends?
Ans: I tremble inside when I think of those few days, and this horrific experience will haunt me for the rest of my life. My parents still don’t know why I had to leave in such haste.
NQ: Can you say what happened that day in 2016?
Ans: I was at a grocery store and then I got a call from a fellow activist asking me to stay at home with my friend who was staying at a place targeted by an Islamic terrorist group, as my friends Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy had been killed by Islamist terrorists with machetes. The news then came that these killers were also looking for others who were very active in the LGBT community and had released the first-ever LGBT magazine Roopban. I had been threatened earlier by a group of unknown people, so I informed my Country Head at the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), a British company, who told me to file a general diary with the police. When doing so, I couldn’t mention why I was being threatened, as being homosexual in Bangladesh is illegal. However, after the killing of Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy and I remained in hiding in a US Embassy safe house along with six others in a similar situation –imminent death. Then, with the help of my office and the US Embassy in Dhaka, I was taken to the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in a bullet proof car and put on a plane to Sri Lanka. These terrifying events happened at such speed, that I could not even say goodbye to my parents properly. We were only given five minutes to meet our parents in a hotel close by to the airport.
My days in Colombo were very difficult. Already mentally shattered, I became lonely and cursed my life. Finally my employer, ACCA, the Global Body for Professional Accountants posted me to their London office and I came here immediately. I am extremely grateful to ACCA and the US Embassy for saving my life.
NQ: Why do you think the Islamist extremists killed your friends and were also after your other friends?
Ans: Bangladesh, being Muslim-majority country, is not ready to recognise the LGBT community and a few of us created first ever LGBT platform for the LGBTQ people in Bangladesh. Of course, Islamic Terrorist group was not happy with the fact that Xulhaz published the first ever LGBT magazine Roopbaan. I and my friends also were involved with LGBT activities to bring a positive change in the society and for our acceptance. Things have completely changed now and I believe it will take a long time to accept us in the society.
NQ: How did you live so long in Bangladesh with your life style?
Ans: A very secret life. I never took a breath of freedom back in Bangladesh and I pretended to be straight with my family and friends. There are thousands who are living as I did in my past life, going through mental suffering and not being accepted by the society, but have to live with it. I lived a dual life. I pretended to be straight with my family, close relatives and in the society, but at the same time I was also open to my very close friends and most of them were homosexual.
NQ: Ok, now to some pleasant issues. Are you now happy in Britain and do you see any hope in Bangladesh?
Ans: Of course, I am. I can breathe freely and can be myself. I do not have to hide my life; I don’t need to pretend to be a straight guy. When my friends in the UK hear about our lives in Bangladesh, they are horrified and in deep shock. The Indian court legitimizing the LGBT community will hopefully have an effect on Bangladeshi people and the politics. I am very hopeful one day we will overcome all barriers and we will be accepted by our family, friends, and society.
NQ: Tell me about the ATTITUDE PRIDE AWARD, 2017.
Ans: I was nominated for the Attitude Pride Awarded 20118 for the protest I made (with the support of my few other LGBT activist friends) in front of the Bangladesh High-commission in United Kingdom, asking justice for my friends Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy.
Honestly Speaking, I did not have any prior knowledge about the Attitude Pride Award until I got the nomination selection email from Mr. Kletus Cliff Joannou, The editor of Attitude Magazine. I was nominated by Peter Tatchell (born 25 January 1952), a widely known British human rights campaigner originally from Australia, best known for his work with LGBT social movements. Peter Tatchell was selected as the Labour Party‘s parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey in 1981. I invited Peter Tatchel to join us, in delivering a speech and to raise his voice with us in asking for justice for Xulhaz and Tonoy. It was the biggest public protest we made on the 25th April 2018 on the 2nd death anniversary of Xulhaz and Tonoy. We also submitted a letter to Bangladesh High-commission to convey our message to Bangladesh Government. Peter Tatchell told me after the protest, that he would be nominating me for the Attitude Pride Award for this courageous initiative. A month later, I got an unexpected email from the editor of the Attitude magazine announcing my nomination, and inviting me to a photo shoot with fellow nominees. When asking if I was happy to receive the award, I was extremely surprised and could not believe it. I felt overwhelmed with excitement and honoured to have been nominated. During my award speech, I dedicated the award to my friends Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, who sacrificed their lives for our LGBT community. For me, they are real heroes who deserve this award. We will always miss them dearly.
NQ: What are your major activities now and what is your future plan?
Ans: I am working (volunteer work) as a Tour Guide for the Queer Tour of London and I am also an active member of ACT UP London, an organisation which works with people suffering from HIV. I am also trying to create a platform for Bangladeshi LGBT people based London and also helping LGBT people in Bangladesh to run online group.
NQ: Thank you for meeting me to share some events in your life, which are hugely sensitive back home.
Ans: Nadeem, I thank you for giving this opportunity to speak in your newspaper.
Mazhar will keep continue his fighting and raising his voice until his friends are given justice.