Sheikh Hasina says anti-Buddhist riots shamed a nation
A Buddhist temple is in ruins after a Muslim mobs set it ablaze in sectarian violence last year
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday inaugurated 19 recently rebuilt Buddhist temples which were torched and vandalized by Muslim mobs in the southeast of the country last year.
The Buddhist sites were attacked on September 29-30, following the posting on the internet, allegedly by a Buddhist, of a faked photograph of a burnt Quran.
No casualties were reported, but the rampage left the temples, some of them centuries old, in ruins.
The ruling Awami League Party blamed the violence on the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the radical Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami, while the opposition pointed the finger at the ruling party.
However, two probes concluded that activists from all three parties were involved.
During a speech on Tuesday in Ramu, the worst hit area in Cox’s Bazar district, Sheikh Hasina said she was committed to sustaining religious harmony in the country.
“Peace, friendship and religious harmony are our pride and the Ramu incident shames us all. We must work together to resist extremist forces who want to destroy our pride,” she said.
The government has spent 120 million taka (US$15 million) reconstructing the temples and has also offered assistance to rebuild over 100 Buddhist homes that were also destroyed.
Buddhists say they are grateful for the government’s support, but that not enough has been done to bring those responsible for the violence to justice.
“Many were freed on bail. We feel scared and frustrated to see the main culprits have not been charged yet,” said Tarun Barua, a local Buddhist leader.
“The deep scar left by the violence, can be healed if justice is done properly and the culprits duly punished,” added Barua, secretary to the 350-year-old Central Sima temple and monastery in Ramu, which fell victim to the rioters.
Complaints were filed against nearly 500 people after the violence, but police have only charged 364. The rest are still on the run.
Also, 12 local politicians representing all the main parties who were implicated in the rioting have not been charged yet, Buddhists say.
Cox’s Bazar police chief Azad Mian said the investigation is taking longer than expected because of the severity of the crimes and because many suspects have fled the area.
“We are investigating with utmost sincerity. So far, we have pressed charges against those involved in low profile crimes, and when we go for the serious cases we will charge the masterminds as well,” he said.
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