27 men have been arrested for being gay, a crime punishable by life imprisonment in Bangladesh.
The men, mostly students aged 20 to 30, had travelled from across the country to hold a party at a community centre in Keraniganj, outside the country’s capital of Dhaka.
The arrests were made by the Rapid Action Battalion, an elite police unit repeatedly described by Human Rights Watch as a government “death squad”.
Commander Zahangir Hossain Matobbar of the unit’s tenth division said illegal drugs and condoms were recovered in the men’s possession.
The police plan to charge the suspects with drug offenses, not homosexuality, because they were detained before they engaged in sex, Associated Press has reported.
The elite unit also revealed it had arrested the owner of the community centre for their part in making the party possible.
Though the country’s government has, since 2013, recognised people who want to claim a third, non-binary gender identity with the term “hijra,” homosexuality is still illegal.
And last year, Xulhaz Mannan – the editor of LGBT magazine Roopban – and a friend were both slaughtered when Islamic militants raided his apartment.
The killers apparently posed as couriers to gain access to the building, killing Mannan, editor of the country’s first and only magazine aimed at the LGBT community.
The LGBT activist had previously worked as a protocol officer for a former US ambassador to Bangladesh.
Police in Bangladesh reported killing a militant who was allegedly behind the brutal murder in June last year, two months after the crime.
An affiliate of terrorist group Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the murder, posting a gory video appearing to show the man’s body.
Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attracted criticism for her lacklustre response, which involved allegedly comparing Mannan to a pornographer and attempting to shift blame to the country’s opposition party.
Since the murders, many gay and lesbian people have reportedly left the country after receiving death threats.
And of those in the LGBT community who have stayed, many live double lives to avoid reprisals.
The police action follows a similar incident in Indonesia, where eight men were arrested earlier this month for having a “gay party.”
The two alleged organisers of the event in Surabaya, the second biggest city in Indonesia, could face up to 15 years in prison.
And six other attendees had charges filed against them under the country’s strict anti-pornography law, according to Agence France-Presse.