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Bangladeshi Buddhists denied justice for a decade

The violence by Muslim mob left at least 12 Buddhist temples and dozens of houses destroyed
A Buddhist monk in seen in front of the reconstructed Shima Bihar temple in Ramu of Cox's Bazar district in Bangladesh. The temple was among a dozen temples destroyed in a Muslim mob attack in 2012

A Buddhist monk in seen in front of the reconstructed Shima Bihar temple in Ramu of Cox's Bazar district in Bangladesh. The temple was among a dozen temples destroyed in a Muslim mob attack in 2012. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

Published: September 30, 2022 11:31 AM GMT
Updated: September 30, 2022 11:32 AM GMT

Buddhists in Bangladesh have expressed frustrations as they marked the tenth anniversary of anti-Buddhist violence that left 12 temples and dozens of houses destroyed in the Muslim-majority country.

“The incident took place ten years ago, but the trial has not been completed. It is unfortunate for us. There is no progress and I think justice has been deliberately delayed by the state,” Pragyananda Bhikkhu, a Buddhist monk from Cox’s Bazar district told UCA News on Sept. 29.

The monk said on the day Buddhists observed the anniversary in silence and prayer, adding that most Buddhists have lost hope for justice for the communal violence.   

“The names of the main accused have been omitted from the investigation report for political reasons,” alleged the monk, president of the district unit of the Buddhist Protection Council.

On Sept. 29, 2012, a Muslim mob attacked Buddhist temples and houses in the Ramu area of Cox’s Bazar district.

The violence was allegedly triggered by a Facebook post of a burned Quran by a local Buddhist man, Uttam Barua, that defamed Islam and “hurt religious sentiments” of Muslims.

The mayhem left 12 temples and some 100 houses razed in arson attacks. The attackers also looted the centuries-old temples and Buddhist houses before setting those on fire, local media reported at that time.

The violence came communal riots erupted between Buddhists and Muslims in the Rakhine state of neighboring Myanmar in June of that year.

In the following month, the leading Bangladeshi English daily, the Daily Star published an investigative report that said the anti-Islam image was posted by a Fake page to trigger the hate crime against Buddhists.

Bangladesh's government, under the supervision of the military, reconstructed the destroyed temples and rebuilt the houses of the Buddhists.

Police officials said a total of 19 cases were filed over the violence. One case has been compromised through an out-of-the-court settlement and 18 cases are still pending in different courts.

While alleging negligence for justice, monk Pragyananda has also pointed out that the government also failed to ensure the safety of the man falsely accused of posting the defamatory image.

“Uttam Barua ran away from home fearing an attack that day. He has not been found since then. Uttam's family also had to stay in hiding for a long time,” he added.

Kajol Barua, 35, a local Buddhist and day laborer alleged that on the day of the attack police stood silently when the mob was formed that marched to the temples.

Barua, an eyewitness, said many like him refrained from testifying in the court fearing a backlash.

“In absence of security no one will go to the court to give witness, and there will be no justice,” Barua told UCA News.

In past years, a judicial probe boy identified 298 people responsible for the mayhem. Another probe by the Home Minister found the involvement of 205 people and concluded the attack was planned 10 days earlier.

Police have pressed charges against 385 people including leaders and supporters of three major political parties – the ruling Awami League, opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and hardline Jamaat-e-Islami party.

Faridul Alam, a state prosecutor in Cox’s Bazar claimed that cases have been dragging for years due to the non-availability of witnesses.

“Total of 19 cases were filed, and one has been settled outside the court. Police filed 18 cases as the plaintiff. Due to a lack of witnesses, there has been a long delay in the trial,” Alam told UCA News.

Kajol Barua said the witnesses would go to the court to testify if they are promised adequate security.

“When you see those accused getting bail and roaming freely, you cannot expect witnesses to testify in the court. We continue to live in fear,” he said.

A Catholic priest, who did not want to be named, expressed regret, saying that due to the indifference of the government, one after another attacks on religious minorities occurred in the country.

He referred to a series of violent attacks against minority Hindus in Bangladesh.

“Any such incident would not have happened if justice had been executed. I think the government should give a proper trial and exemplary punishment to criminals even if it is late,” said the priest, a member of the Catholic Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission told UCA News.

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