Catholics arrested for 'defaming' Bangladeshi cooperative

Christian credit union claims Facebook video is part of smear campaign by rival group
Catholics arrested for 'defaming' Bangladeshi cooperative

A staff member serves customers at the Dhaka headquarters of the Christian Cooperative Credit Union in this 2017 file photo. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)

Police in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka have detained four Catholics and a Muslim for their alleged involvement in defaming a major Christian cooperative by producing a short documentary.

They made the arrests on Sept. 10, the day the governing board of the Dhaka-based Christian Cooperative Credit Union Ltd. (CCCUL) filed a case against 17 people accusing them of spreading propaganda to malign the cooperative and board officials.

"We have found credible evidence of the case filed under the Information and Communication Technology Act 2006. Five people were detained for interrogation and a hunt for others is ongoing," Tawfiq Ahmed, investigating officer of Tejgaon police station where the case was lodged, told ucanews.com.

The officer said the accused were produced before a Dhaka court on Sept. 11 and a petition for a seven-day remand is pending at the court.

The legal action from CCCUL comes in response to a video documentary published in mid-August on Facebook titled "Hyenas Attack Dhaka Credit" that accused board members of corruption and abusing power.

Always Entertainment, a page run by people linked to a rival panel of the present governing board, published the video, which went viral immediately. Since the filing of the case, the page has been blocked and the video removed.   

"This documentary is part of a smear campaign to spread false and misleading information to defame the organization. It mentioned 'unelected' board members repetitively and falsely accused them of forgery in order to confuse general members and sow division in society," Ponkoj Gilbert Costa, a Catholic and CCCUL secretary, told ucanews.com. 

The arrests follow a power struggle between two groups of Christians vying for establishing control over the CCCUL.

Founded in 1955, the CCCUL is thought to be Bangladesh's largest cooperative union with more than 40,000 Catholic and Protestant members and estimated total assets of 6 billion taka (US$72 million).

On Jan. 25, 2017, the CCCUL held an election for the governing board after the end of its three-year term. However, the poll saw only 300 representatives cast their votes instead of all eligible members amid strong opposition from a rival panel. The panel backed by the incumbent board won.

Before the election, the board scrapped the membership of several aspiring candidates, who later went to the High Court to challenge the decision. The rivalry intensified with court cases and mud slinging.

The opposition panel termed the election "illegitimate" and continued with their legal action.

The power struggle saw the country's largest Christian forum — Bangladesh Christian Association — split into two, with the new Christian Association Bangladesh formed last year.

William Proloy Samaddar, a backer of the opposition panel, said he does not support propaganda but pointed out the "squeezing of people's voices" by the present CCCUL board.

"When you deny people their democratic rights including voting and criticism, this kind of thing might happen. The board members need to realize power comes from people and it does not last forever," Samaddar, a Baptist leader, told ucanews.com.

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Father Kamal Corraya, parish priest of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Tejgaon, expressed dismay over the issue.

"This incident is saddening and is likely to widen the ongoing division among the minority Christian community. Christian leaders need to rethink and become responsible, and they need to put aside their vested interests to bring an end to disputes," Father Corraya told ucanews.com.

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