The Emmanuel Church in Lalmonirhat district was allegedly attacked by Muslims on Feb. 10. (Photo supplied)
Christian leaders have expressed frustration and demanded justice after a church in northern Bangladesh was allegedly vandalized and looted by Muslims.
On Feb. 10, four Muslims who came by motorbike attacked the Emmanuel Church of Bangladesh at Aditmari in Lalmonirhat district, according to a complaint submitted to the district police chief on Feb. 14.
The attackers destroyed the church signboard, cut down trees, entered the church after breaking the lock and left with 30 chairs and two floor mats worth 14,000 taka (US$167), the letter said.
The plaintiff, Pastor Lovlu S. Levy, said he lodged a complaint with the local police station but the police did not take action to investigate and arrest the culprits. Instead, under the influence of local Muslim leaders, the church has been accused of conversion.
Pastor Levy said the violence was caused by incitement against Christians by a locally organized waz mahfil (Islamic gathering) where hate speeches were delivered.
He said it was not the first time he and the church had come under attack and threats.
The pastor recalled that in 2015, amid a rise in Islamic militancy, he received death threats from extremists. In 2019, a group of Muslims physically assaulted him on his way to the church.
“I have been in a panic since the attack. Our constitution allows freedom of religion in the country but fundamentalists have put the freedom under threat. The waz mahfil made various provocative statements about minorities and especially Christians, which encouraged the fundamentalists to attack our church,” Pastor Levy told UCA News.
He added that the church has 46 members and all are living in fear since the violence.
Police described the incident as a land dispute and denied the presence of any church.
“We came to know the incident was due to a dispute over land. According to the locals, there is no church there. The banner of the church is to focus on land grabbing. In government documents, there is no listing of the church and no prayer takes place in the church here,” Saiful Islam, officer in charge of Aditmari police station, told UCA News.
The Bangladesh Christian Association (BCA) dismissed the police refusal to acknowledge the church.
“We know the church and the pastor well. Last year we provided blankets and some money for the church members before Christmas celebrations,” BCA president Nirmol Rozario told UCA News.
“The incident is a result of the predominance of Islamic fundamentalists who want to intimidate Christians. The government must take proper action to stop such violence.”
Bangladesh has been known as a moderate Muslim-majority country. However, since 2013 it has seen an upsurge in Islamic militancy which has claimed the lives of 50 people including secular bloggers, liberal academics, publishers, gay activists, foreigners and religious minorities including Hindus, Shia and Ahmadi Muslims and Christians.
During this period, four Christian clergy including an Italian Catholic priest were attacked and two Christians were murdered by militants, while dozens received death threats.