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Violence against minorities in Bangladesh on the rise

Lack of security, a culture of impunity and government apathy fuel violence against minorities

ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka

ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka

Updated: May 03, 2017 09:53 AM GMT
Violence against minorities in Bangladesh on the rise

A Hindu woman prays inside a temple in Dhaka in this file photo. A U.S. religious freedom report says Bangladesh is among 37 countries where violations of against minorities are rife. (ucanews.com photo) 

Bangladesh is becoming a dangerous place for minority communities, say leaders from minority communities, echoing a U.S. report on religious freedom.

The 2017 United States Commission on International Religious Freedom report documented violence against religious minorities in 37 countries, including Bangladesh.

The annual report published April 25 reported deadly attacks against religious minorities, secular bloggers, intellectuals, and foreigners by domestic and transnational extremist groups had increased in Bangladesh in 2016.

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Although the government has taken steps to investigate, arrest, and prosecute perpetrators, threats and violence have heightened the sense of fear among Bangladeshi citizens of all religious groups, the report said.

Reacting to the report Theophil Nokrek, secretary of the Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Commission told ucanews.com that in most cases, the government and ruling class are involved directly or indirectly in the persecution of religious minorities. "It crushes minorities' hope for justice and creates a hostile environment for them," said Nokrek.

Rana Dasgupta, a Hindu lawyer and secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, said Bangladeshi minorities are used to quash sensitive social and political issues.

In January, the group published a report that showed there were 1,471 incidents of violence and abuse against minorities in 2016; a fivefold surge from 262 cases in 2015.

"If the situation continues minorities will disappear from the country one day and this democratic nation would turn into an Islamic theocracy," Dasgupta said.

Also agreeing with the U.S. report, Ashoke Barua, secretary of Bangladesh Buddhist Federation, said sectarianism poses an increasing threat to minorities and that  grassroots leaders had failed to address religious tolerance.

"So, when Hindus, Buddhists and Christians face abuse, there is no one to turn to for justice," Barua told ucanews.com.

About 90 percent of Bangladesh's 160 million people are Muslims, 9 percent are Hindu and the rest belong to different religions including Buddhism and Christianity.

Besides the dominant ethnic Bengali people, there are some 3 million people belonging to 45 ethnic tribal groups who are Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and animist.

Muslim-majority Bangladesh, long known for religious harmony and secular culture and traditions, has seen a sharp rise in religious extremism in recent times.

Last year, four atheist bloggers and a publisher, whose writings and publications were critical of religions especially Islam, were hacked to death by Islamic militants.

Alleged operatives of terrorist group, which calls itself the Islamic State gunned down an Italian aid worker and a Japanese farmer, also last year.

An Italian Catholic priest and a Protestant pastor narrowly escaped murder allegedly in the hands of Islamic militants. More than two dozen Catholic priests, Protestant pastors and Christians aid workers have received death threats through mail, phone calls and text messages.

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