Thursday, July 31, 2003

Bangladesh: Sytematic Persecution of Religious Minorities

Date: Thursday 31 July 2003
Subj: Bangladesh: Sytematic Persecution of Religious Minorities
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


On 1 October 2001, as U.S. and coalition forces were assembling in Pakistan in preparation for the bombing campaign in Afghanistan, Bangladeshis were heading off to vote in their national elections.

A massive voter swing ousted the secular Awami League, which had, with the people's mandate, created the secular, democratic state of Bangladesh by securing independence from Pakistan in 1971. Riding to victory on an enormous wave of Islamic fervour was the pro-Pakistan, pro-Islam, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Support also rose dramatically for the pro-Shari'a, hardline Islamist Jama'at-e-Islami and Islami Oika Jote parties, which now rule in coalition with the BNP.

The election result was a massive protest vote against the forthcoming action of the coalition forces in what was being touted by Islamists as a "crusade against Islam". It was a vote for Muslim solidarity, and Bangladesh has not been the same since.

This posting details the serious situation for religious minorities in Bangladesh today. They are living in a state of terror amidst systematic, unrestrained persecution, as Islamists extort, rape, torture and kill with impunity.

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BANGLADESH: SYSTEMATIC PERSECUTION OF RELIGIOUS MINORITIES

The Guardian newspaper (UK) recently published an article on the persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh entitled, "Rape and torture empties the villages" by John Vidal (21 July 2003).

Vidal reports, "Serious attacks on and persecution of religious minorities by Islamic fundamentalists are increasing." He continues, "Evidence is emerging that the oppression of minorities is becoming systematic."

Vidal quotes a leading Bangladesh lawyer as saying that the revival of fundamentalist Islam "is like a silent revolution. We are returning," he says, "to the dark ages. I think the backdrop is being created for the introduction of strict sharia laws. You see extremist rightwing fundamentalists infiltrating every professional area, in the appointment of the judiciary, the law, medicine and in education. They are capturing key positions in government, the universities and institutions."

According to Vidal, a serious incident took place in the village of Fhainjana. "A mob of 200 fundamentalists recently looted 10 Christian houses, allegedly assaulting many women and children. Christians were seriously beaten and others molested after refusing to give money to thugs in the village of Kamalapur, near Dhaka."

Vidal reports that many villages are said to be now empty of minorities. One man tells Vidal that all the Hindus have been driven out of his village of Sri Rumpur, near Khulna. "They have all been driven out by people threatening to torture them or demanding money," he says. "People who raise their voices are threatened. It's a kind of systematic ethnic cleansing."

The article also expresses the great concern of one leading Islamic scholar. "'What we are seeing is the Talibanisation of Bangladesh,' Maolama Abdul Awal, former director of the Bangladesh Islamic Foundation, said. 'If we allow them to continue ... [minorities] will be eliminated. Bangladesh will become a fascist country'."

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The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) listed Bangladesh as a Country of Special Concern in its annual report to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (April 2003). The WEA UN Report details the same strategy of persecution - extortion, torture, rapes, and killings.

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EXCERPT FROM THE WEA UN REPORT (APRIL 2003)

Up to 50 Christian families in Chatiangacha village in the western district of Natore, have been targeted for extortion. Reports in the daily 'Janakantha' newspaper of Bangladesh suggest that Islamist fundamentalists are behind a series of incidents during which men arrive on motorbikes and call out the family name of their victims. The family is then usually given between a week and ten days to raise between £150 and £300 or the daughter is forced to sleep with the men. The residents of Chatiangacha have complained to Boraignam Jubodol, a right-wing Islamist group, but to no avail. Jimmy Koraiya, who lives in the village, has been visited by the men on motorbikes who have called for his high school-age daughter three times. "What kind of country is this?" he asks. "If I can't give money, I have to give them my daughter."

In Bonparha Market area, also in Natore district, religious minorities are forced to pay huge fines to be released from false charges. The local BNP has also reportedly built a torture chamber to make victims confess to false charges. Islamic fundamentalist groups have used false papers to drive thousands of Hindus and Christians off their land. In the south-eastern Chittagong division, 30 Hindu families have been evicted and one Hindu killed. In other districts, minorities are forced to convert to Islam at knifepoint. Dr. Deb Lal Dakua, a Hindu from Nazirpur in the southern Pirojpur district, was forcibly circumcised on November 11 by a group of extremists. He was also told to pay £730 (INR 50,000) within seven days or face death. Minorities are concerned by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh. When the BNP was last in power, between 1991 and 1996, there was considerable violence against religious minorities. During that time, the Jama'at-e-Islami (JI) attempted to table a Blasphemy Bill, which was discriminatory against religious minorities.

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- Elizabeth Kendal