Christians, Others Demand Justice Over 2001 Church Bombing

Bangladesh
2006-06-07 00:00:00

Christians and others are demanding that militants who have reportedly admitted to the deadly bombing of a Catholic church five years ago be formally charged and tried in court for the crime.

On June 3, the Bangladesh Christian Association (BCA) organized a protest rally in Dhaka to mark the fifth anniversary of the bomb attack on the church in Baniarchor, Gopalganj district, about 100 kilometers southwest of Dhaka.

Approximately 100 people of various religions began the commemoration with a meeting at the foot of Kendrio Shahid Minar, the central martyrs monument, in Dhaka. They then held a procession holding lighted candles.

The June 3, 2001, blast in the church during Pentecost Sunday Mass killed 10 worshippers and injured 26 others, some of whom were permanently crippled.

On March 18, two of the country´s national Bangla (Bengali) dailies, Ittefaq and Jugantor, reported that Shaikh Abdur Rahman, leader of the banned Islamic militant group Jama´atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), had admitted to police and detective personnel that his group bombed the Baniarchor church.

Rahman is now in police custody, charged with a number of other bombings and murders. On May 29, a court in Barisal, about 280 kilometers south of Dhaka, passed death sentences on Rahman, his second-in-command, Siddiqul Islam (alias Bangla Bhai), and five other militants for killing Judges Jaganath Pandey and Sohel Ahmed on Nov. 14, 2005, in Jhalakathi, near Barisal.

A former district magistrate told UCA news that anyone condemned to death has the right to appeal the sentence to the High Court and the Supreme Court, and ultimately could appeal to the country´s president for general amnesty.

However, he pointed out, if the death sentences of the militant leaders are confirmed by the higher courts, these can be carried out without having to wait for the resolution of other cases filed against the men.

At the Dhaka rally, BCA secretary general Nirmal Rozario said previous investigations have falsely reported that the church bombing took place due to internal conflicts in the parish. He said in his address: "We thank God, Allah, that Shaikh (Rahman) has admitted responsibility for bombing the church with the help of Mufti Hannan. And now we demand justice for the bomb blast," Rozario said.

Muslim Lawyer Abed Reza, former student leader of Dhaka University, demanded that the court charge and sentence Rahman accordingly. Noting that Rahman has admitted that his group committed the church bombing, Reza said, "When a person admits his fault in the court, then no witness is needed."

Reza, who has joined every BCA-organized annual protest for justice in the Baniarchor bombing, also criticized government spokespeople for earlier declarations that the church attack was an internal parish matter.

Sukanto Boidya, assistant secretary of Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Forum, pointed out that people do not feel secure due to bomb blasts throughout the country. This is because perpetrators are not given judgment and those who have suffered are not being compensated, he said.

On the anniversary day in Baniarchor, parishioners staged a protest rally an hour before the 6 p.m. Mass. Xaverian Father Mimmo Pietanza, the parish priest, told UCA News June 5 that following the Mass, he and his parishioners went to the graveyard and blessed the graves of the 10 people killed in the blast. Then they prayed in the house of one of the victims until 10 p.m.

The Bangla daily Janakantha reported on May 30 that 29 JMB militants, including the seven leaders, have been sentenced to death in other cases. At least 235 cases have been filed against the group for the Aug. 17, 2005, bomb blasts across the country and subsequent bomb attacks and suicide bombings.

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