It’s been a bad year in Bangladesh for bloggers, activists, and anyone in the LGBT community. The government has cracked down on media and civil society, while editors, bloggers and gay rights activists have been targeted, and in some cases brutally murdered.
It’s a state that led 23-year-old Mahamood Rakibul Hasan to flee to Nepal, where he met with Asia Calling reporter, Rajan Parajuli.
Mahamood Rakibul Hasan, or Rakib for short, has been living inside a small meeting room at the Blue Diamond Society.
It’s a group of activists that support sexual minorities in the capital, Kathmandu.
Rakib showed me where he sleeps, a thin blanket he spread out on the floor each night. It’s winter here and at night temperatures hit close to freezing.
When I first met Rakib, he hadn’t eaten a meal for 3 days. Every few days he cooks a packet of instant noodles because that’s all he can afford.
Rakib first fled from home in 2009, after he came out to his parents.
“My mother said, ‘It’s not natural. It’s just your thinking. So change it.’ She said the day I became normal they would accept me,” recalls Rakib.
“They took me to the psychiatrist but the psychiatrist harassed me, and told me I am a problem for society, and people like me are the root cause of HIV. He gave me different pills but things didn’t change,” Rakib remembered.
At home Rakib’s father refused to eat with him at the same table. And when he prayed in the mosque, his family told him the seat he had used would remain impure for a month.
So Rakib packed up a few belongings, some clothes, a few books, and about $200 dollars. And he took the 12-hour bus to Dhaka.
In the capital Rakib and his friends formed a youth organization called ‘Rubban.’ They published a magazine, wrote blogs, and organized awareness programs, urging people to speak out against discrimination and violence against sexual minorities.
Against horrific acts, such as those he had experienced himself.
“The police caught me when I was coming out of the park one day and they accused me of being a sex worker. They said they would file a case against me. They threatened me and forcefully took me to the public toilet and started touching me everywhere,” revealed Rakib.
“They harassed me. I kicked them and they burned cigarettes on my back. They raped me and threw me on the road. I had no one to support me if they filed the case. So I had no choice but to keep quiet.”
Before he fled, Rakib was writing for a magazine called Muktamona. That was before the magazine’s editor Avijit Roy was killed by Islamic fundamentalists.
Eight other bloggers who wrote about gay and lesbian issues were also killed.
“When Islamic fundamentalists killed Avijit Roy, the founding editor of Muktamona, we were very scared.”
“I also used to write for Muktamona. On the public bus one day some boys were criticizing me. I said, ‘I am an equal citizen of Bangladesh.’ And he said, ‘I know you where you live. You will end up like your blogger friends. I will throw acid in your face.’ That really scared me a lot.”
Fearing for his life, Rakib decided to leave.
He fled to Nepal in April last year, hoping he might be safer here.
Rakib hasn’t seen his family for more than six years now. They don’t even know he is in another country.
Rakib tries to call his mother on Skype every week but she won’t pick up.
“I miss my mother a lot. I don’t know why but I will always love her. My parents brought me into this world. They disowned me but maybe it’s my luck. I always try to call my mother on Skype but she never accepts my call,” he said.
Here in Nepal Rakib has been recognized as a refugee by the office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
But for now he is waiting for a host country to take him in.
The other option, returning home, would mean he would have to lie about his sexuality – something he isn’t prepared to do.
For now, when Rakib misses home, he sings the national anthem, softly to himself.