Mayoral spokesperson LaToya Foster said Bowser made the decision to cancel the meeting, which had been requested by Bangladeshi Ambassador Mohammad Ziauddin, after the Washington Blade contacted the mayor’s office asking whether Bowser was aware of the murder and whether she planned to raise the matter with the ambassador.
“It was your call and the information you sent us that brought this about,” said Foster, who was referring to an email the Blade sent to the mayor’s press office Monday night inquiring about the meeting. The email included links to three stories about the murder published by the Blade last year.
The Blade stories reported that Xulhaz Mannan, the editor of Bangladesh’s first LGBT magazine and an employee of the U.S. Agency for International Development who previously worked at the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh, along with his friend and fellow LGBT activist Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, were hacked to death inside the apartment where Mannan and his elderly mother lived in Dhaka on April 25, 2016.
The Dhaka Times reported up to a half dozen young men who claimed they worked for a courier company entered the apartment building and carried out the attack against Mannan and Tonoy.
Mannan’s nephew, Raj Islam, who lives in Virginia Beach, Va., told the Blade two months later that Mannan’s mother witnessed the attack and that the attackers “took both of [Mannan’s] eyes out in front of her.”
The nephew added, “It’s illegal to be homosexual” in Bangladesh. “As we see being the editor of the first LGBTQ magazine . . . the results (are what we saw happen).”
News organizations in Bangladesh have reported that members of an al-Qaida branch in Bangladesh took credit for the murders of Mannan and Tonoy.
The two men were targeted at a time when a growing number of human rights activists, secular academics, writers and bloggers and members of religious minority groups have been killed in Bangladesh by Islamic extremists beginning in early 2015, activists familiar with the situation have said.
Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of the Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office, said that when contacted by the Blade Monday night about the mayor’s scheduled meeting with the ambassador she immediately alerted the mayor about the LGBT angle related to the murder of the two LGBT activists.
“I didn’t say mayor, cancel this,” Alexander-Reid told the Blade. “I just said I want to bring this to your attention. She makes her own decision on what she wants to do after getting information like that.”
Foster said she didn’t know why the ambassador requested the meeting and wasn’t certain what issues he planned to bring up. Foster initially said the mayor’s office planned to issue an official statement about the cancellation of the meeting. But she later informed the Blade the mayor’s office would have no further comment on the matter.
Since taking office as mayor, Bowser has travelled to foreign countries and met with representatives of other countries in Washington in an effort strengthen international tourism in the nation’s capital, which the mayor says helps the city’s economy.
A spokesperson for the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington couldn’t immediately be reached to determine Ziauddin’s reason for requesting to meet with Bowser. Islam told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview that he welcomes the mayor’s decision to cancel the meeting.
“I can see that as a sign of respect,” said Islam.
Michael K. Lavers contributed to this article.