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Church property torched in land dispute

Central and local church battle boils over

Christians protest against the sale of Church property and forced evictions (Photo by Romel Roy) Christians protest against the sale of Church property and forced evictions (Photo by Romel Roy)
  • Bangladesh
  • September 12, 2012
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A house on church grounds was set ablaze last night in Barisal, in the latest in a series of clashes over disputed land.

A legal battle between the local church administrators and the central body of the Bangladesh Baptist Church was sparked in 2009, when the central body sold a plot to a developer. This would have meant homelessness for the 150 people who live there.

“We have lived on the church property over 12 years. If we are evicted we will have nowhere to go and will be forced out onto the streets,” said John Boiragi, one of the residents. “This is unjust and unacceptable.”

Paresh Boiragi (no relation), the local church secretary, also expressed the view that the sale of 1.02 hectares to Olympic Properties Limited, a subsidiary of Khansons Group, was illegal.

“British citizen Gordon Soddy purchased the property in 1969 and handed it over to the Bangladesh Baptist Church Association through a Trustee Deed," he said. "The donor mentioned in the deed that the property is non-sellable and non-transferrable and should only be used for the welfare of the Christian community."

After the sale was announced, a case was filed against both the sellers and buyers and the court sided with the plaintiffs in March 2010.

This year another case was filed against any illegal attempt to occupy the land, and in late August the court again favored the local community.

But on Saturday, associates of Khansons Group tore down 38 meters of wall around the property, destroyed three crosses on the premises, put up signboards claiming the property and tried to forcibly evict people, Boiragi said.

A spokesman for Khansons Group, which paid 80 million taka (US$977,696) for the land, said they have land purchase documents.

“We set up the signboards with permission from the sellers,” said general manager Ansar Ali.

More than 100 people formed a human chain on Monday to prevent the evictions, handing over a memorandum of demands to the chief government official in the district, urging him to take immediate steps.

Ashim Baroi, secretary for the central body of the Baptist Church, argues that it is entitled to sell the property.

“According to the constitution of the Baptist Church, we can buy or sell land,” Baroi said. “We don’t need to permission from the local church authorities.”

Baroi said they offered relocation services to the 36 families in the colony, but they refused to move. However, John Boiragi denied there had been such an offer.

The Bangladesh Baptist Church has 37,097 members in 347 churches, making it the second largest Christian denomination in the country after Catholics.

Local police officer Shahiduzzaman says they have mediated for a meeting between two parties involved.

“The problem is actually rooted in an internal feud and it should be solved,” he said. “We are concerned that by no means minorities face any torture or eviction.”

No suspects in the home fire have been identified.

Related Reports:

New mosque plans spark clashes
Muslims torch Christians’ houses

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