Rock Ronald Rozario, Dhaka and Antuni David, Rangpur
Updated: July 21, 2014 11:16 PM GMT
Nuns form a human chain during Christian protests in Dhaka on Monday (photo by Rock Ronald Rozario)
Thousands of Christians protested across Bangladesh on Monday following an attack on nuns in the north of the country earlier this month.
About 2,500 Christians were joined by Muslim and Hindu groups in Rangpur, where the attack took place. At least 50 men armed with knives and iron bars assaulted and injured two nuns on July 8.
“No way can we accept this heinous attack on these dedicated people,” Father Anthony Sen, secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission in the Catholic diocese of Dinajpur which covers Rangpur, said at the protest. "The culprits must be brought to book immediately and prosecuted in a fast-track court. The government must ensure that this kind of incident never takes place again and that the security of minorities should be guaranteed.”
There were also smaller rallies in other cities across the country including the capital Dhaka, where nuns held hands and lined major roads.
The assailants stole cash and valuables worth one million taka (US$12,821) during the Rangpur raid. Rabiul Alam, chief of Mithapukur police under Rangpur district, has confirmed that 10 people have since been arrested.
“In initial interrogations they said robbery was their only motive behind the attack, and we found that at least two of them are professional robbers with previous criminal records,” he said.
But many clergy called the raid a “planned terrorist attack” on the Church by Muslim land owners following what they say is a history of land grabbing and intimidation.
Christians and Muslims in the area contacted by ucanews.com said they blamed Asaduzzaman Saja Fakir, a Muslim who has been in a long running land dispute with the Church. He has links to the opposition Jatiya Party, which enjoys a strong following in Rangpur.
Local Catholics have accused Fakir of targeting priests and nuns who have resisted his alleged attempts to take back land that the court ordered him to hand over to the Church in 2010.
In another incident, more than 50 mostly tribal Catholics were injured when they were attacked by men linked to Fakir after erecting a boundary wall on disputed land, also in 2010. Both sides filed criminal cases against each other. The court later delivered an injunction notice to maintain the status quo on the land.
“These are all false allegations intended to malign me and my family,” Fakir said. “No one can prove that I have ever grabbed land. I purchase it legally.”
Fakir added that he would hold a press conference soon to defend himself against what he called “propaganda”.