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Four charged with grabbing Protestant land in Bangladesh

Anti-Corruption Commission's move sets a landmark for land disputes involving minority communities

Four charged with grabbing Protestant land in Bangladesh

Pastors and members of the Presbyterian Church in Sylhet of Bangladesh gather for liturgy and the baptism of children on Easter Sunday, April 4. (Photo: Facebook page of Sylhet Presbyterian Church)

Bangladesh’s anti-graft agency has charged four people with forging land documents and illegally grabbing the land and cemetery of a Protestant church.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has sued four men — three former land officials and the owner of a real estate company — for occupying property belonging to the Lusai Church in Sylhet city in northeast Bangladesh.

The Lusai Church, a member of the Presbyterian Church of Sylhet, is the legal owner of the property, according to the complaint letter registered with the ACC.

Among the accused are former sub-registrar Mojibur Rahman Patwari of Sylhet Land Office and Sirajul Islam, the owner of Impulse Builders Limited.

Ismail Hossain, an assistant director of the ACC, said it has collected all the evidence and documents for the case, and the accused would be arrested soon.  

“In 2012, Sirajul Islam bought this land by collaborating with land office officials. Later, we received complaints and through our investigations we have been convinced the real owner of the land is the church authorities,” Hossain told UCA News.

Presbyterian Church officials said the land and cemetery have belonged to the church since British rule

Sirajul Islam allegedly made fake documents and showed the land of the cemetery as fallow land in collaboration with the other accused. Land office officials signed a fake record and registered the land in the name of Sirajul Islam, he added.

Local media reported that the market price of occupied land is estimated to be about US$1.4 million.

Presbyterian Church officials said the land and cemetery have belonged to the church since British rule. Herenga Lusai, a British police officer and a Christian from the Lusai ethnic group, donated the property and after his death his son, Jamingthanga Lusai, looked after the property as the chairman of the church.

Following the grabbing of the property in 2012, Presbyterian Church authorities filed a complaint with the ACC for justice and return of the land.

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Church officials say this is the first time a government agency has charged land grabbers with occupying church land and it sets a milestone in terms of justice over land disputes involving minority communities in the Muslim-majority country.

Sangkar Marak, secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Sylhet, said the ACC case would be a milestone for Bangladesh's minority Christians.

“In many places properties of Christians in Bangladesh are being forcibly seized this way, but they do not take any steps to reclaim land, fearing a backlash. The steps taken by the ACC will give us courage and help realize our rights,” he told UCA News.

UCA News attempted to contact Sirajul Islam by phone but he didn’t respond.

However, in a report of local Bengal news portal SylhetVoice.com, Islam denied all the allegations.

“Some people have made baseless complaints only to harass me,” Islam said. “I bought the ownership of the land and there was nothing fake. However, the ACC has now filed a case. I will deal with it legally.”

We also face problems with land in many places and we hope justice will prevail and our property will be safe

Oblate Father Soroj Leonard Costa, officer in charge of Sylhet Catholic Diocese, said the case would boost the fight against land grabbing.

“Since a case has been filed over this land, we want the land to be returned to the real owner and the accused should be punished. We also face problems with land in many places and we hope justice will prevail and our property will be safe,” Father Costa told UCA News.

The priest said that since September last year Sylhet Diocese has faced a land dispute with a group of local Muslims. Several attempts were made to vandalize church property, prompting officials to file a case with police.

However, the dispute has been resolved as the accused apologized and the matter was settled mutually. The Church is now constructing a school on the land and encircled the property with a wall.  

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