Bangladeshi Muslim hardliners seek removal of Justice statue

FEBRUARY 24, 2017

The Associated Press


Thousands of people marched in Bangladesh's capital on Friday to demand a Lady Justice statue be removed from the Supreme Court complex.

The statue of a woman holding a scale and sword in her hands was installed in December outside the court building. The sculpture is wrapped in a sari, a Bangladeshi revision of the usual representation, the Greek goddess Themis blindfolded and clad in a gown.

Islamists oppose idol worship and consider the Lady Justice statue anti-Islamic.

Supporters and sympathizers of the hardline Hefazat-e-Islam group joined the protest in Dhaka's Baitul Mokarram mosque after Friday's weekly prayer.

A mass movement across the country would occur if Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government did not meet the protesters' demand immediately, said Junaid Al Habib, a leader of the Hefazat-e-Islam.

"Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country, its 92 percent people are Muslims, we cannot accept any idol in front of the Supreme Court," he said.

In 2008, protests led to the removal of a statue of a Bangladeshi mystic poet at a road crossing near Dhaka's international airport.

The country of 160 million people is ruled by secular laws, but radical Islam has been rising.

In recent years dozens of atheists, liberal writers, bloggers and publishers and members of minority communities and foreigners have been targeted and killed.

Lost childhood and education: Child marriages in Bangladesh

Sumon Corraya

Poverty and traditional Islamic culture are the main causes. 55% of brides are under 18 years of age; 18% under 15. A new law would allow the wedding in "special circumstances" to save the honor of the girls. Three stories of child marriages.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - "I lost my childhood, I wanted to go to school. I loved studying, but my parents received a good proposal and organized the wedding despite my opposition”,  Sumi Akter, 17 year old Muslim girl married off when she was 14 tells AsiaNews. Hers is one of many cases of child marriage, a scourge that afflicts the whole of Bangladesh society.

Poverty and traditional Islamic culture are the main factors driving families to arrange marriage for girls at an early age. The phenomenon cuts across all religious communities, except for Catholics who do not support early marriages.

The practice is especially widespread in the Islamic community. Sumi today is the mother of a two year old, has two sisters and two brothers. She said that her father, a simple worker, "could not carry on maintaining the family. So they made me marry hiding my real age. " She risked her life at birth, due to severe bleeding. She's was care of, but the child was born under-weight and has had several problems. For all these reasons, she says, "I strongly oppose the passage of the law authorizing the marriages before age 18".

The reference is to a law approved last month by the Dhaka authorities. According to the draft of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act - 2016, the juvenile marriages will be permitted only in "special circumstances", such as "accidental or illegal pregnancies", so as "to save the honor of the girl."

According to current provisions, the legal age for marriage is 21 years for males and 18 for females. Several activists complain that the bill would legalize forced marriages to repair for pregnancies that are the result of sexual violence, which is widespread in the country.

Official figures show that Bangladesh is the Asian country with the highest rate of child brides. 52% of brides are under 18 years old and 18% under 15 years old.

The juvenile marriages also affect the Hindu community. Bristy Rani was married at 16 years with a boy of 25. Her parents have chosen marriage as a means to "ensure my safety. When I was in school I was the target of several guys who made me marriage proposals and insulted me. Given the situation, my family members agreed. " According Bristy, poverty and insecurity would push parents to arrange the marriage of their daughters. "Bangladesh is not a safe place for girls - she says - and we cannot move freely. Government and associations must reduce poverty".

In the Catholic community in general there are few incidents of early marriages. Church authorities do not support the marriage of minors. The rare exception is to Probitro Rozario and Pronoti Gomes (fictional names), spouses at age 16. The local Church has allowed their marriage because Pronoti was pregnant. Irrespective of their case, Probitro believes that "juvenile marriages are wrong. The Church has to transmit good values to pupils, teaching Christians not contract marriage in childhood.

Bangladesh Attack: Students Who Attended Emory, UC Berkeley Among Victims


NBC News

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Twenty foreigners were killed by six heavily armed militants at an upscale restaurant in the diplomatic quarter of Dhaka early Saturday after an hours-long siege was ended by Bangladeshi forces.

Sharp weapons were used to kill the victims, with local media reporting that some were beheaded.

Among those killed were three students with ties to American colleges: Emory University in Georgia, and the University of California, Berkeley.

Abinta Kabir, a rising sophomore at Emory University's Oxford, Georgia, campus, was killed in the attack, the school said in a statement. Kabir, who lived in Miami, was in Dhaka visiting family and friends. Her nationality was not immediately clear.

A second Emory student also died, the school said. Faraaz Hossain, from Dhaka, graduated from Emory's Oxford College this year and was a rising junior at the university's business school.

"The Emory community mourns this tragic and senseless loss of two members of our university family. Our thoughts and prayers go out on behalf of Faraaz and Abinta and their families and friends for strength and peace at this unspeakably sad time," said a post on Emory's Facebook page.

Another student, 19-year-old Tarushi Jain of India, was also killed, according to tweets from Indian Exterior Minister Sushma Swaraj. Jain, who went to high school at the American International School of Dhaka, had been attending the University of California, Berkeley.

"I have spoken to her father Shri Sanjeev Jain and conveyed our deepest condolences.The country is with them in this hour of grief," Swaraj tweeted.

Nine Italians were also killed in the attack, Italy's foreign minister said, and one Italian was missing.

Thirteen other foreign captives were rescued by paramilitary forces, who killed all the attackers, Brigadier General Nayeem Ashfaq Chowdhury told reporters. Some police officers were also killed.

Gunmen shouting "Allahu Akbar" stormed the popular Holey Artisan Bakery in the Gulshan district on Friday night during the Ramadan holy month.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the atrocity, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activity online. The Amaq news agency, affiliated with ISIS, also posted photos purportedly showing hostages' bodies.

The bakery by day and popular restaurant at night is just a 15-minute walk from the American Embassy, but no Americans are known to be among the dead.

Japanese citizens were also among those caught up in the attack, according to diplomatic officials who were working to confirm details.

The nine Italians killed were named by the Italian foreign ministry as Adele Puglisi; Marco Tondat; Claudia Maria D'Antona; Nadia Benedetti; Vincenzo D'Allestro; Maria Rivoli; Cristian Rossi; Claudio Cappelli; and Simona Monti.

Gunfire was heard as troops moved to end the standoff more than 10 hours after the attack began. Journalists were not allowed near the scene.

"We heard gunfire open, it continued for about 10 minutes — very loud, rapid gunfire, multiple explosions," Maimuna Ahmad, who lives near the restaurant, told MSNBC. The gunfire was then sporadic and stopped, she said. Other blasts were later heard, but it was unsure what caused them.

Among those feared dead were Japanese citizens with ties to the non-governmental Japan International Cooperation Agency, its president Shinichi Kitaoka told reporters.

One was rescued with injuries but seven "have not been accounted for and we are very much concerned," he said.

"I simply feel strong anger towards the perpetrators," Kitakoka added.

At least four security personnel were killed responding to the attack, a senior police official, Assistant Superintendent Fazle-e-Elahi, told NBC News.

Fazle-e-Elahi said most of the police casualties occurred when one hostage escaped, and as officers rushed to help him, a grenade was tossed at them from a balcony. The dead included the assistant police commissioner, he said.

He described the assailants as "heavily armed and equipped" and "tactically sound."

"The attackers are not identified. They were shouting 'Allah Akbar' when they entered the restaurant," Fazle-e-Elahi said.

A doctor at a nearby hospital told NBC News that six of the wounded were in critical condition.

Sumon Reza, a kitchen staffer who escaped the attack, told reporters that the gunmen were armed with firearms and bombs as they entered the restaurant.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said all of the Americans under the diplomatic chief of mission in Dhaka are accounted for. Officials were accounting for other American citizens who may have been in the area.

Security in Dhaka has been stepped up since last year following an ISIS-claimed attack during a Shiite Muslim holiday, when one person was killed and dozens of others were hurt.

Itrat Saeed, who is friends with the manager of the bakery that was attacked, described the restaurant as popular with foreigners. Saeed's friend who runs the restaurant posted on Facebook that he is safe, Saeed said.

"Another friend's daughter is in there," Saeed said. "We haven't heard from her."

Bangladeshi al Qaeda wing declares war on atheists

By Ivan Watson, CNN
April 9, 2016

(CNN)Bangladeshi officials are investigating a claim of responsibility by al Qaeda's wing in South Asia for the machete murder of a secular blogger in Dhaka.

"We are seriously looking into it," said Anisul Huq, Bangladesh's minister for law.
"Unless we are totally sure that this claim ... is authentic, I don't think we will be commenting on it."

According to the jihadist monitoring group SITE, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) claims that the movement's Bangladesh branch "carried out an operation to slaughter" Nazimuddin Samad in the nation's capital.

Bangladesh police say the 26-year-old writer and graduate student was ambushed by attackers Wednesday night. The attackers slashed Samad with machetes and shot him before escaping the scene on a motorcycle.

Police tell CNN they have yet to make any arrests in the wake of the murder.

In its statement, al Qaeda accused Samad of being an "enemy of Allah." It lists three of Samad's posts on Facebook going back to 2013 as examples of his insults against Islam.

The group effectively declares war against atheist writers who dare to challenge al Qaeda's strict interpretation of Islam.

It also threatens to target judges, lawyers, engineers and doctors "who don't allow others to follow the rulings of the Islamic Shariah."

Samad is the sixth writer or publisher of atheist material to have been murdered in Dhaka in the past 14 months.

Is there a way to protect Bangladeshi writers?

Bangladeshi authorities have previously denied that foreign groups such as al Qaeda or ISIS have taken root in the majority Muslim country.

Instead, it says the murders of secular writers in the capital, as well as a series of deadly attacks against Hindu, Christian and Shi'ite minority groups across the country, are the work of homegrown extremists.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan echoed those sentiments on Saturday. He said the issue is not freedom of expression but tolerance of other religions.

"The bloggers, they should control their writing," he told CNN. "Our country is a secular state... I want to say that people should be careful not to hurt anyone by writing anything -- hurt any religion, any people's beliefs, any religious leaders."

The 'sin' that could get you killed in Bangladesh

The Bangladeshi government has vowed to bring killers to justice.

Law Minister Huq pointed to the December 2015 death sentence handed down to two men convicted of killing blogger Ahmed Rajib in 2013.

Asked if the government would adopt new measures to protect Bangladesh's embattled community of atheists, Huq said security forces had "intensified protective mechanisms."

Several top government officials insist security forces will provide protection to writers who feel their lives are at risk.

Atheists flee Bangladesh

But members of the besieged "free-thinker" intellectual community in Bangladesh say they do not trust the police, because in recent years authorities prosecuted several writers for "insulting religion" in their published work.

"I have not gone to the police because police actually tried to arrest me in 2013," said one atheist blogger in Bangladesh.

He asked not to be identified, due to the fact that he is on a hit list of 84 atheist writers published by a jihadi group more than a year ago. The blogger is part of a network that has helped at least a dozen colleagues flee Bangladesh.

"This community is shattered," the writer said.

To avoid being murdered, the blogger said he stopped posting comments online, changed his phone number and place of residence and regularly changed his route to and from work.

He said he felt like it was a de facto crime to admit to being an atheist in this majority Muslim country.

"I'm definitely living in fear," the writer said.

In 2015, the freedom of press watchdog organization Committee to Protect Journalists listed Bangladesh as 12th in the world on its Global Impunity Index highlighting countries "where journalists are slain and the killers go free."

Nine injured in attack on Hindu temple in Bangladesh

December 10, 2015   

Two people suffered gunshot wounds and seven others less serious injuries in a bomb and gun attack on Thursday at a Hindu temple in northern Bangladesh, a senior police official said.

Humayun Kabir, deputy inspector general of police for the northern region, told Reuters that three unknown attackers had arrived at the temple in Dinajpur district, 415 km (260 miles) north of the capital Dhaka, by motorbike.

They detonated several homemade bombs and then shot at people who were fleeing the building in panic, he said. About one hundred people were gathered in the temple.

Two people with gunshot wounds were taken to hospital.

Kabir said two people had been detained following the incident, which he said was similar in nature to a bomb attack on Saturday on a Hindu religious gathering in the same area in which at least six people were injured, three critically.

Police suspect banned militant group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) may be behind the attacks, Kabir said.

Muslim-majority Bangladesh has suffered a rising tide of Islamist violence over the past year although attacks on Hindu religious gatherings remain rare.

Four online critics of religious militancy have been hacked to death, among them a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origin.

In October, an Italian doctor working as a missionary was shot and wounded in the same area as Thursday's attack, which had earlier seen an Italian and a Japanese citizen die in separate attacks claimed by Islamic State.

Bangladeshi secular publisher hacked to death

31 October 2015

Faisal Arefin Dipon, 43, was killed at his office in the city centre, hours after another publisher and two secular writers were injured in an attack.

A local affiliate of al-Qaeda said it carried out the attacks.

There has been a series of attacks on secularists since blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death in February.

Both publishers targeted on Saturday published Roy's work.

Mr Dipon was found dead at the Jagriti Prokashoni publishing house, in his third-floor office.

"I saw him lying upside down and in a massive pool of blood. They slaughtered his neck. He is dead," his father, the writer Abul Kashem Fazlul Haq, said, quoted by AFP.

Earlier on Saturday, armed men burst into the offices of publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul.

They stabbed Mr Tutul and two writers who were with him, locked them in an office and fled the scene, police said.

The three men were rushed to hospital, and at least one of them is in a critical condition.

The two writers were named by police as Ranadeep Basu and Tareque Rahim.

Ansar al-Islam, al-Qaeda's Bangladeshi affiliate, posted messages online saying it had carried out Saturday's attacks.

Roy, a US citizen of Bangladeshi origin and critic of radical Islamism, was murdered in February by suspected Islamists. His wife and fellow blogger Bonya Ahmed was badly injured in the attack.

Three other bloggers have since been killed.

Bangladeshi Christians Told to Close Church, Convert to Islam


A local government official in central Bangladesh has halted the construction of a church, forced Christians to worship at a mosque and threatened them with eviction from their village unless they renounce their faith.

The Tangail Evangelical Holiness Church in Bilbathuagani village, Tangail district, about 100 kilometers north of Dhaka, was created Sept. 8 by a group of about 25 Christians who had been meeting secretly for three years.

However, local council chairman Rafiqul Islam Faruk joined around 200 demonstrators Sept. 13 to protest against the start of the building of the church.

The following day, the Christians were summoned to his office. More than 1,000 Muslims waited outside, following an announcement at all local mosques to gather at the chairman’s office.

Ordered to Embrace Islam
Mokrom Ali, 32, told World Watch Monitor he was forced to accept Islam.

“The chairman and the imams of the mosques interrogated me for accepting Christianity. They asked me why I had become a Christian. It is a great sin to become a Christian from Islam,” Asli said. “If I did not accept Islam, they would beat me, burn my house, and evict me from the society.

“Their threats chilled me to the bone. That is why I pretended to accept Islam, but faith in Christ is the wellspring of my life. Now I am no longer a Muslim; I am a Christian.”

Mojnu Mia, 31, told World Watch Monitor he was also forced to accept Islam against his will.

“The chairman and the imams asked me what my religion is. I said I was a Christian. Then they threatened to beat me and evict me from the village unless I recanted my faith in Christianity,” Mia said.

“They had browbeaten me into accepting Islam. I accepted it only to get out from that predicament. But later, I embraced Christianity by swearing a confession in the court.

“The chairman came to know that I became a Christian again, by affidavit. He threatened that it would not be possible to practice Christianity in that area. If I stick to this religion, I must leave this place.

“The chairman is clipping the wings of our faith. I do not know how long we can grin and bear it. We want religious freedom. We want to practice our religion freely.”

Eight Christians agreed to return to Islam since Sept. 14, under the chairman’s orders. The chairman and his associates had already beaten some of those Christians three years ago for accepting Christianity.

‘They Were Derailed’
Local chairman Faruk told World Watch Monitor that some Christians had been acting against Islam, due to their incorrect interpretation of the Quran.

“The imams and other elders of the society called them for rectification because of their aberrant behavior. They were derailed, so we tried to put them on the right track,” he said.

“Eight people who had deviated came back to Islam. We are trying to bring back others. To change a religion, a person needs to swear his or her name, and should inform a local magistrate. If the magistrate permits, then he or she can change religion. But what they are doing is completely wrong.”

World Watch Monitor asked Faruk if he would protest if any of those people filed an affidavit with the court re-affirming their Christianity.

Faruk said there would be “huge pressure from the society against it. As a representative of the local people, I cannot go against the public sentiment.”

The chairman warned the Christians not to resume the construction of the church, saying it was anti-Islamic.

The Bangladesh constitution grants every citizen the right to profess, practice or propagate any religion. Every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.

Rev. Mrinal Kanti Baroi, the group’s leader, told World Watch Monitor they had tried to show the constitution’s clause on religious freedom to the chairman, to no avail.

“We took one copy of the constitution to the chairman and other elders of the society, but they did not listen to us and did not want to see it,” Baroi said.

On Sept. 15, members of the congregation wrote a letter to the district administrative chief, requesting safety and protection.

Deputy commissioner Anisur Rahman of Tangail district told World Watch Monitor that necessary steps had been taken to ensure their safety and security.

A Plea for Harmony
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has been leading a secular government in the Muslim-majority country since 2009, on Sept. 3 called upon her countrymen to work together to protect the communal harmony “being nurtured in the country for thousands of years”. She  made her remarks after inaugurating reconstructed Buddhist temples, which had been damaged and burnt by criminals in September 2012.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom removed Bangladesh from its Watch List after the victory of Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League in the 2008 general election. Her center-left party is considered to promote secular policies and to be favorable toward minority rights. Her announcement to implement religious freedom reforms was another cause for Bangladesh to be removed from the Watch List.

Of Bangladesh’s 154 million people, Sunni Muslims constitute 90 percent and Hindus 9 percent, according to the 2001 census. The remaining 1 percent is mainly Christian and Buddhist.

Muslims Torch Buddhist Temples, Homes in Bangladesh

COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh September 30, 2012 (AP)

Thousands of Bangladeshi Muslims angry over an alleged derogatory photo of the Islamic holy book Quran on Facebook set fires in at least 10 Buddhist temples and 40 homes near the southern border with Myanmar, authorities said Sunday.

The violence began late Saturday and continued until early Sunday, said Nojibul Islam, a police chief in the coastal district of Cox's Bazar.

He said the situation was under control Sunday afternoon after extra security officials were deployed and the government banned public gatherings in the troubled area.

He said at least 20 people were injured in the attacks that followed the posting of a Facebook photo of a burned copy of the Quran. The rioters blamed the photo on a local Buddhist boy, though it was not immediately clear if the boy actually posted the photo.

Bangladesh's popular English-language Daily Star newspaper quoted the boy as saying that the photo was mistakenly tagged on his Facebook profile. The newspaper reported that soon after the violence broke out, the boy's Facebook account was closed and police escorted him and his mother to safety.

Joinul Bari, chief government administrator in Cox's Bazar district, said authorities detained the boy's parents and were investigating.

Buddhists make up less than 1 percent of Muslim-majority Bangladesh's 150 million people.

The Bangladeshi violence follows protests that erupted in Muslim countries over the past month after a low-budget film, "Innocence of Muslims," produced by a U.S. citizen denigrated the Prophet Muhammad by portraying Islam's holiest figure as a fraud, womanizer and child molester.

Some two dozen demonstrators were killed in protests that attacked symbols of U.S. and the West, including diplomatic compounds.

Islamists protest women's rights in Bangladesh

By Farid Ahmed, for CNN

April 5, 2011

Dhaka, Bangladesh (CNN) -- Dozens of people were injured in Bangladesh as riot police clashed with thousands of Islamists protesting women's rights, authorities and witnesses said.

The protesters damaged buses and cars Monday, setting several on fire, while police used clubs and tear gas to disperse the Islamists, who were wearing skullcaps and burial cloths.

"We'll die for the cause of Islam, but (will) not allow the government to disrespect (the) Quran," one protester shouted during the demonstration near the national mosque in downtown Dhaka.

The government recently announced its National Women Development Policy 2011, which ensures women expanded rights in property and education. The protesters said the policy is against the Quran.

Fazlul Huq Amini, leader of a coalition of Islamic groups called the Islami Oikya Jote, asked his followers to take to the streets to protest the policy. Amini said the Quran defines how much property a woman should inherit, and the government should not allow women more than that.

"It's against the principle of the Quran, and we'll resist it at any cost," Amini said.

Thousands of students in madrassas, or Islamic schools, carried sticks and logs as they marched the streets. Protests also took place in the southern port city of Chittagong and several other areas. Business activities ceased, and schools remained closed because of fears of violence.

"We had sufficient security measures to avert any violent incidents," said Benazir Ahmed, Dhaka's police chief.

The government said it had done nothing against the Quran. "Amini is misleading the people," said government spokesman Mohammad Shahjahan Miah.

Earlier on Monday, a madrassa student was shot to death in western Jessore district when police opened fire on the protesters.

Amini, a former lawmaker, said the protests will continue until the policy is scrapped.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party lent support to the protests.

Muslims in Bangladesh Beat, Deprive Christians of Work

Nov. 02 2010

The Christian Post

LOS ANGELES (Compass Direct News) – Muslim villagers last month beat a 63-year-old Christian convert and his youngest son because they refused to return to Islam, the father told Compass.

The next day, another Christian in a nearby village was beaten and robbed in related violence in southwestern Bangladesh.

Aynal Haque, 63, a volunteer for Christian organization Way of Life Trust, told Compass that his brothers and relatives along with Muslim villagers beat him and his son, 22-year-old Lal Miah, on Oct. 9 when they refused to recant Christianity. The family lives at Sadhu Hati Panta Para village in Jhenaidah district, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) southwest of the capital city, Dhaka. It is in the jurisdiction of Sadar police station.

Haque’s relatives and villagers said that he had become Christian by eating pork and by disrespecting the Quran, he said.

“I embraced Christianity by my own will and understanding, but I have due respect for other religions,” Haque said. “How can I be a righteous man by disrespecting other religions? Whatever rumors the villagers are spreading are false.”

At a meeting to which Haque was summoned on Oct. 9, about 500 men and women from several villages gathered, including local and Maoist party leaders.

“They tried to force me and my son to admit that we had eaten pork and trampled on the Quran to become Christian,” Haque said. “They tried to force us to be apologetic for our blunder of accepting Christianity and also tried to compel us to go back to Islam. I told them, ‘While there is breath left in our bodies, we will not reject Christianity.’

“When we denied their allegation and demand, they beat us severely. They ordered us not to mix with other Muslim villagers. They confined us in our house for five days.”

Haque has worked on his neighbors’ land for survival to supplement the meager income he earns selling seeds in local markets, but the villagers have now refused to give him work, he said.

“Every day I earn around 50 taka to 100 taka [70 cents to US$1.40] from the seed business,” he said. “Some days I cannot earn any money. So, I need to work villagers’ land for extra money to maintain my family.”

His youngest son also worked in neighbors’ fields as a day-laborer, besides attending school.

“We cannot live if we do not get farming work on other people’s land,” Haque said.

Haque, his wife and youngest son received Christ three years ago, and since then they have faced harassment and threats from Muslim neighbors. His other grown son and two daughters, as well as a son-in-law, also follow Christ but have yet to be baptized. There are around 25 people in his village who came to Christ under Haque’s influence; most of them remain low-profile to avoid harassment from the villagers, he said.

The weekly worship service in Haque’s shanty house has been hampered as some have been too fearful to attend, and the 25 members of the church fear the consequences of continuing to meet, Haque said.

Officials of Way of Life Trust tried to visit the area to investigate the beating of Haque and his son but were unable due to security risks, said Jatish Biswas, the organization’s executive director. They informed the district police chief, who instantly sent forces to provide safety for the Christians, Biswas said.

Villagers thought that if they were able to get Haque to renounce Christianity, then the other Christians would quickly return to Islam, according to Biswas.

Hearing of the incident in Sadhu Hati Panta Para the next day (Oct. 10), Muslims in Kola village about five kilometers (nearly three miles) away beat a Christian friend of Haque’s and robbed his seed shop.

Tokkel Ali, 40, an evangelist in one of the house churches that Way of Life Trust has established, told Compass that around 20 people arrived at his shop at about 11 a.m. and told him to go with them to Haque’s house.

“The presence of so many people, most of whom I did not know, and the way they were talking, seemed ominous to me, and I refused to go with them,” Ali said. “I said, ‘If he wants me to go to his house, he could call me on my mobile.’”

One person in the crowd pointed toward Ali, saying that he was a Christian and had made otherwise innocent people Christians by them feeding pork and letting them disrespect the Quran, said Ali. Islam strictly prohibits eating pork.

“That rumor spread like wildfire among other Muslims,” Ali said. “All of a sudden, a huge crowd overran me and started beating me, throwing my seeds here and there.”

Ali said he lost consciousness, and someone took him to a nearby three-storey house. When he came to, he scrambled back to his shop to find his seeds scattered, and 24,580 taka (US$342) for buying seed had been stolen, along with his bicycle.

Accustomed to earning just enough each day to survive, Ali said it would be impossible for him to recover and rebuild his business. He had received loans of 20,000 taka (US$278) from Grameen Bank (Nobel Peach Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus’ micro-finance entity), 15,000 taka (US$209) from the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee and 11,000 taka (US$153) from Way of Life Trust to establish the business. Ali ran a similar seed business in Dakbangla market in Kola village.

“How can I pay back a weekly installment of 1,150 taka [US$160] to the micro-credit lending NGOs [Non-Governmental Organizations]?” he said. “I have already become delinquent in paying back some installments after the looting of my money and shop. I’ve ended up in deep debt, which has become a noose around my neck.”

Ali said he has not dared filed any charges.

“If I file any case or complain against them, they will kill me, as this area is very dangerous because of the Maoists,” he said, referring to a banned group of armed rebels with whom the villagers have links. “Even the local administration and the law enforcement agencies are afraid of them.”

Ali has planted 25 house churches under Way of Life Trust serving 144 people in weekly worship. Baptized in 2007, he has been following Christ for more than 10 years.

“Whenever I go to bazaar, people fling insults at me about that beating,” he said. “Everyone says that nothing would have happened if I had not accepted Christianity, an abhorrent religion to them. People also say that I should hang myself with a rope for renouncing Islam.”

Since the beating, he has become an alien in his own village, he said.

“Whatever insinuation and rumors they spout against me and other believers, there is no language to squash it,” he said. “I have to remain tight-lipped, otherwise they will kill me.”

He can no longer cross the land of one of his neighbors in order to bathe in a nearby river, he said.

“After that incident, my neighbor warned me not to go through his land,” he said. “Now I take a bath in my home from an old and dysfunctional tube-well. My neighbors say, ‘Christians are the enemy of Muslims, so don’t go through my land.’ It seems that I am nobody in this village.”

Biswas of Way of Life Trust told Compass that Christians in remote villages lack the freedoms guaranteed in the Bangladeshi constitution to practice their faith without any interference.

“Where is religious liberty for Haque and Ali?” Biswas said. “Like them, many Christians in remote villages are in the throes of persecution, though our constitution enshrined full liberty for religious minorities.”

Way of Life Trust has aided in the establishment of some 500 house churches in Bangladesh, which is nearly 90 percent Muslim. Hinduism is the second largest religion at 9.2 percent of the 153.5 million people, and Buddhists and Christians make up less than 1 percent of the population.



Bangladeshi Premier Faces a Grim Crucible

The New York Times


Published: March 13, 2009

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Sheikh Hasina survived when gunmen executed her father and extended family late one summer night in 1975. She survived again when assassins hurled 13 grenades at her political rally in 2004, killing two dozen people.

Skip to next paragraph Today, about two months into her tenure as prime minister of this fractious, poor and coup-prone country, she confronts her greatest crucible yet: an unusually savage mutiny by border guards last month that left soldiers buried in mass graves and widened the gulf between her fragile administration and the military.

Altogether, 74 people were killed, mostly army officers in command of the border force.

Two separate investigations are under way to identify those responsible: one by the army, another by Mrs. Hasina’s government. Whether either will yield credible results is unknown. Mrs. Hasina’s fate and the stability of the country depend on the outcome.

In an interview this week, Mrs. Hasina called the mutiny “a big conspiracy” against her agenda to establish a secular democracy in this Muslim-majority nation of 150 million. She struck a note of defiant resolve.

“No one will stop me,” she said. “I will continue.” Then she raised her eyebrows and offered a hint of a smile. “We have to unearth all these conspiracies.”

Mrs. Hasina, 61, has the air of a strict grandmother. She speaks softly. She wears traditional Bengali saris that cover her head. Her eyes are a cool gray.

She said she was keen to hunt down and punish those responsible for the mutiny. She suggested that several factions unhappy with her agenda could have been responsible, including Islamist militants, whom she has vowed to crush.

“There are many elements,” she said in her first extensive interview since the Feb. 25 siege. “These terrorist groups are very much active. This incident gives us a lesson. It can happen again.”

After two years of army-backed rule in the country, Mrs. Hasina’s won a resounding majority of the parliamentary seats in elections last December, after campaigning on a slate of provocative promises. She said she would root out Islamist guerillas, put on trial those suspected of conspiring against Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in 1971, nurture friendly relations with India and stop anti-Indian insurgents from using Bangladeshi soil to launch attacks against New Delhi.

The election drew a turnout of around 80 percent and was cited as among the most credible and least violent here in recent years.

Then came the massacre.

On the last Wednesday in February, at the headquarters of the border patrol, known as the Bangladesh Rifles, a guard pointed his weapon at the force commander. Some commotion ensued, according to investigators, and then other guards stormed the hall. Gunfire could be heard blocks away. Hundreds of civilians who lived, worked and went to school inside the compound were trapped.

Mrs. Hasina allowed the army to take position around the compound but not to storm it. She negotiated with the mutineers for the next 36 hours, first directly and then through emissaries. She offered a general amnesty and promised to address the rebels’ grievances. On the second day, when they refused to surrender, she threatened to send in tanks. By the time the siege ended, more than 6,000 border guards had escaped, and an unknown quantity of weapons had been taken from the armory.

As the bodies of the dead soldiers were discovered, the horrific nature of the violence became evident. Some army officers had been shot at close range and then stabbed repeatedly with bayonets. Eyes were gouged out. A stack of 38 bodies was found in a mass grave.

No sooner did the siege end than the arguments began. Today, the bitter points of contention are whether the army commanders were killed before or after negotiations began (the time of death has not yet been established for all the victims), whether Mrs. Hasina pressed to know the scale of the killings before offering amnesty, and, most important, why she did not permit the army to storm the compound early on.

“The government was not in charge,” said Abdur Razzak, a leader of the conservative Jamaat-e-Islami party. “This was an army problem. The army should have solved it in their wisdom.”

Mr. Razzak said the mutiny was a conspiracy designed “to weaken the army, to weaken the state.” Mr. Razzak’s party was trounced in the last election; its share of the 300 elected seats in Parliament fell to 2 from 17 in the December elections.

Mrs. Hasina said sending in the army would have resulted in a bloodbath and risked a potential conflict between the 46 border guard battalions scattered across the country and their army commanders.

In any case, few in Bangladesh say they believe that the mutiny was what it first appeared: a rebellion of rank-and-file border guards aggrieved by their commanders, their pay and their working conditions. In a country where conspiracy theories are a national sport, the mutiny has become a screen onto which many anxieties are projected.

Skip to next paragraph Some point to terrorist groups and anti-Indian insurgents. Others say that it was fueled by intelligence agencies in either India or Pakistan — both countries have been alternately friend and foe to Bangladesh. There are those who suggest that it could involve politicians who lost the last election, while others blame people within Mrs. Hasina’s party whose goal is to keep the army in check.

The truth of what happened may never be known. Bangladesh holds many mysteries in its heart, including the question of who ordered the killing of Mrs. Hasina’s father, Sheik Mujibur Rahman, a former prime minister. Mrs. Hasina was spared only because she had been visiting her husband in Europe at the time. Eighteen members of her family, including her brothers and their wives, were executed.

Central to Mrs. Hasina’s survival today is keeping the military on her side. Her face-off with the army came into sharp focus three days after the mutiny ended when she confronted an unusually rowdy room of army officers. They berated her for not allowing the army to take charge early on. The screaming match was recorded and put up on YouTube, shocking the nation.

This week, in the interview, Mrs. Hasina said she sympathized with the soldiers’ grief even as she cautioned them against taking revenge — or power. So far, the army does not seem interested.

Mrs. Hasina’s most deadly enemies have been the Islamist militant groups that have put down roots here in recent years. They have been implicated in assassination attempts against her, including the grenade attack on her political meeting in August 2004. Mrs. Hasina lost some of her hearing as a result of that attack. Sitting under a framed portrait of her father, she said she would not be bowed.

“If I am afraid for my life, the whole nation will be afraid,” she said. “I know some bullets, some grenades are chasing me.”


Bangladesh's Secular Democracy Struggles with Violent Radical Islam

Cutting Edge Burma Desk

Benedict Rogers

November 24th 2008

Bangladesh is a country associated more with floods, cyclones and poverty than terrorism or radical Islamism. Indeed, it is a country founded on secular, democratic values and widely regarded as a moderate Muslim state. In recent years, however, militant Islamism has quietly been taking ground – and Bangladesh’s survival as a progressive state is on a knife-edge.

The warning signs have been there for some years, and some commentators have been sounding the alarm. In 2002, Ruth Baldwin wrote a piece in The Nation headlined: “The ‘Talibanisation’ of Bangladesh.” Hiranmay Karlekar wrote Bangladesh: The Next Afghanistan? While Maneeza Hossain’s Broken Pendulum: Bangladesh’s Swing to Radicalism and Ali Riaz’s God Willing: The Politics of Islamism in Bangladesh are all important contributions. 

Perhaps the most visible and dramatic sign of the growth of extremism came three years ago. On 17 August 2005, between 11 and 11.30 am, 527 bombs were exploded in a massive attack on all but one of the country’s 64 districts. Such a carefully co-ordinated campaign of terror shocked the nation – but in many respects it was just the tip of the terror iceberg. Other terrorist incidents, including an attack on the Bangladeshi-born British High Commissioner, members of the judiciary and sporadic attacks on religious and ethnic minorities are further indicators of the presence of well-organised terrorist networks.

However, it is not simply the acts of violence that should cause concern. The Islamists’ ideological influence has spread to almost all parts of Bangladeshi society – not least the political arena.

The umbrella organisation is Jamaat-e-Islami, a radical group founded in India in 1941 by Mawlana Abul Ala Maududi. According to one analyst in Bangladesh, Jamaat’s objective is to create “a monolithic Islamic state, based on Shari’ah law, and declare jihad against Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and free-thinking Muslims.” Religious minorities – and Muslims regarded by Jamaat as heretical, such as the Ahmadiyya sect – are targeted for eviction, according to one human rights activist, “or at least to be made into a ‘non-existent’ element whose voice cannot be heard.” Jamaat’s tentacles now reach into major sectors, including banking, health care, education, business and non-profit organisations, and they aim to “destroy” the judicial system, according to one critic, including by “physically eliminating judges.” In 2001, Jamaat won 17 parliamentary seats in alliance with the governing party, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), and became a partner in the coalition government until its overthrow by the military in 2007. Elections scheduled for next month could result in Jamaat’s return to government, if BNP wins, and even in the current caretaker administration there are believed to be Jamaat-sympathisers.

While Jamaat is the umbrella, according to journalist Shahriar Kabir and the Forum for Secular Bangladesh there are over 100 Islamist political parties and militant organisations in Bangladesh. Only four of these have been banned, and even they continue to operate under alternative names. Extremist literature, audio and video cassettes are widely distributed, and thousands of madrassas teach radical Islamism.

All this is completely at odds with the vision of Bangladesh’s founder, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led the struggle for independence from Pakistan in which at least three million were killed, ten million displaced and 250,000 women raped. According to Hiranmay Karlekar, at the heart of the birth of Bangladesh was a belief that “the Bengali identity had prevailed over the Islamic identity.” The preamble of the first constitution explicitly stated a commitment to secularism and democracy, and political parties were banned from using religion as a basis for their activities.

Bangladesh began sliding slowly towards Islamism following the assassination of Rahman in 1975. In 1977, references to secularism were deleted from the constitution and the phrase “Bismillah-Ar-Rahiman-Ar Rahim” (“In the name of Allah, the Beneficient, the Merciful) was inserted. Five years later, General Ershad – one of the military dictators who ruled the country in the alternating competition between the army and the democrats – introduced the Eighth Amendment, making Islam the state religion. The constitution now states that “absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah shall be the basis of all actions.”

There remain some provisos, which give religious minorities protection. For example, while Islamic principles are set out as guiding values, the constitution states that they “shall not be judicially enforceable.” The Chief Justice has said clearly that Shari’ah does not constitute the basis of the country’s legislation. Religious freedom, including “the right to profess, practice or propagate any religion”, is protected, and discrimination on religious grounds prohibited.

Nevertheless, in practice Christians, Hindus and Buddhists are denied promotion in the government and the military and in the view of one Bangladeshi journalist, religious and ethnic minorities have seen “unprecedented persecution” in recent years.

In 1998, for example, three Christian sites in Dhaka were attacked – a Catholic girls’ school, an Anglican church and a Baptist church. A mob set fire to the school, destroyed property, burned books, pulled down a cross and smashed statues of the Virgin Mary and St Francis of Assisi. Death threats were issued from the nearby mosque. Since then, sporadic attacks on churches have escalated. In 2007, at least five churches were attacked. Hindus and Ahmadiyyas face similar violence.

Cases of abduction, rape, forced marriage and forced conversion of religious minority women – and particularly young girls – are increasing, in a trend worryingly reminiscent of Pakistan. On 13 February 2007, for example, Shantona Rozario, an 18 year-old Christian student, was kidnapped. She was forced at gunpoint to sign a marriage document with her kidnapper, and an affidavit for conversion to Islam, witnessed by a lawyer, a mullah and a group of young men. After a month she managed to escape, but others are not so fortunate. On April 30 of this year a 14 year-old Christian girl, Bituni de Silva, was raped at gunpoint, and on May 2 a 13 year-old daughter of a pastor was gang-raped.

Apostates in Bangladesh face similar severe consequences for leaving Islam as they do throughout the world. On 1 February this year, a 70 year-old woman convert to Christianity from Islam, Rahima Beoa, died from burns suffered when her home was set ablaze after her conversion.

In 2004, a Jamaat Member of Parliament attempted to introduce a blasphemy law in Bangladesh, modelled on Pakistan’s notorious legislation. Attempts have been made to ban Ahmadiyya literature. And even during the State of Emergency, when protests and processions are supposed to be banned, extremists led by groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir have held angry rallies. On 17 September 2007, for example, a cartoon was published in a satirical magazine, Alpin, featuring a conversation between a child and an imam, in which the boy was told that he should always use the prefix ‘Mohammed’ before a name. The boy then decided to call his cat “Mohammed Cat.” The cartoon sparked outrage, and effiges of the newspaper editor were burned in street protests. The cartoonist and the editor were arrested, charged with sedition, and the publication was closed down. In April this year, large protests were held after Friday prayers in major cities, opposing the government’s plans to legitimate women’s rights in the constitution. Maulana Fazlul Haq, chairman of the Islami Oikya Jote, described such a policy as “anti-Qu’ran” and “anti-Islamic.”

An estimated 2.5 million people in Bangladesh belong to indigenous ethnic tribal groups, sometime sknown as “Adibashis.” There are at least 40 different ethnic groups, mainly inhabiting the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the plains area around Mymensingh. Most of these tribal groups are non-Muslim – predominantly Buddhist, Christian and Animist. Since the late 1970s, the Bangladeshi government has actively sponsored the resettlement of Bengali Muslims into the tribal areas – resulting in the construction of mosques, land-grabbing, evictions and discrimination against non-Muslims. One indigenous rights campaigner said: “Our way of life is an open society. Men and women can work anywhere. We are more flexible on gender issues. But the settlers have come in and built mosques, and they use their loudspeakers which affects us culturally and psychologically.”

In one village near Mymensingh, for example, a Bengali Muslim married a Christian from a tribal group. All the other villagers are Christians. After a few years, he decided he needed a mosque – even though he was the only Muslim in the area. So now he is building a mosque – and the likelihood is he will bring in an imam, who will bring his family, who will bring their relatives: and the slow, subtle, insidious repopulation of a non-Muslim, non-Bengali area will unfold. When I visited the remote jungle village, the atmosphere was tense – and the imam, sitting at the mosque construction site, was unwelcoming.

The prediction of Bangladesh’s “Talibanisation” may sound extreme, and in the immediate term the likelihood of Bangladesh becoming like Afghanistan is far-fetched. Bangladesh has not gone as far down the road of radicalisation as Pakistan, for example. Nevertheless, the warnings need to be taken seriously. If it continues as it is, Bangladesh will go the way of Pakistan – and then the risk of Talibanisation becomes realistic.

Indeed, it is Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that are fuelling the Islamisation of Bangladesh. As one person put it, “Pakistan is the breeding ground and the brain, and Saudi Arabia provides the money.” Saudi Arabia is a major funder of madrassas and mosques in Bangladesh, for example – and it is no coincide that Wahhabi teaching is on the rise.

A prominent church leader predicts that full Shari’ah law will be implemented if the situation does not change. “Some day, it will happen. Maybe not immediately, but it will happen … The support of voices in the international community is very much needed. More people need to come and find out what is happening here.” As Ali Riaz says, “there is no doubt that if the present trend continues, the nation will inevitably slide further down the slope toward a regime with a clear Islamist agenda … What is necessary is a decisive change in the direction of the nation.” Such a decisive change is vital, to restore the founding principles of Bangladesh – secularism, democracy, equal rights. There is still a thriving civil society, with bold intellectuals, journalists and human rights activists willing to challenge radical Islamism – and that is a cause for hope. Bangladesh has not been lost to radical Islamism completely – but it will be if the alarm bells are not heard.

Cutting Edge Contributor Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist with Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and serves as Deputy Chairman of the UK Conservative Party's Human Rights Commission. He is the author of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma's Karen People (Monarch, 2004).


Bangladesh for Beginners

Why Americans should care about the increasingly radical insurgency.
By Eliza Griswold
Posted Thursday, Dec. 29, 2005, at 7:18 AM ET

When Bangladesh's first two suicide bombers blew themselves up recently, the attacks marked a significant escalation in the growing militant insurgency that threatens an already wobbly state. Now, at long last, the world is beginning to pay attention to the spate of bombings, killings, and threats against judges, lawyers, journalists, teachers, professors, politicians, and religious minorities by the banned jihadist group Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, among others, for the past five years.

Faced with increased pressure at home and abroad, the Bangladeshi National Party, the leader in the four-party coalition government, is finally rounding up the terrorists—more than 600 so far—and scrutinizing its alliance with two Islamist parties within the ruling coalition that are suspected of having links to the militants. But the government will have to end the long-standing tradition of using young men to foment violence for political ends if it wants to ensure that the nation of 152 million—the world's third-most-populous Muslim country—does not become another Afghanistan or, more aptly, another Darfur, where the rebels whose presence the government has long tolerated have seized virtual control.

One of the problems in routing Bangladesh's militants is that sectarian violence is so deeply entrenched in the nation's brief history, and religious division has been used to justify violence since the country gained its independence in 1971. Bangladesh's brand of Islam has always been overwhelmingly moderate, and the constitution enshrines religious tolerance, but as Tasleema Nasreen writes in her 1993 novel Shame (she had to flee the country after its publication), rural governments outside Dhaka have relied on the fury of young jobless men they call cadres to bully locals into supporting them and to drive religious and political minorities off valuable land. This bullying has often taken the form of the targeted use of rape, and since independence, many cadres have used violence between Hindus and Muslims to mask and legitimize their bid for political power. During the last nationwide election in 2001, in one northern village, at least five Hindu women were gang-raped in an explicit bid to control the town's votes, according to one of the victims. (The victim who told me this story had her eyes cut out by her attackers so that she could not identify them after the rape.)

Although Bangladesh's GDP is currently on an uptick, much of the country still lives on less than a dollar a day. This is one reason thousands of Bangladeshis left the country in the 1980s. Some traveled to the Middle East and returned as born-again Muslims. In the most remote villages, a stringent new strain of devotion became increasingly evident. Other young men traveled for schooling, primarily to Pakistan. Because religious scholarships were the easiest to come by, they ended up in many of the religious schools that encouraged their students to take jobs as jihadists in Afghanistan. There, a select handful created a militant group, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, known as Huji, reportedly at the behest of Osama Bin Laden himself.

Since their return in the early 1990s, those veterans of the Afghan war have been calling for the implementation of Islamic law in Bangladesh. Because the vast majority of Bangladeshis are devout Muslims who support their civil government and society, no one paid much attention to these fanatics for a decade or so. Nor to the fact that in 1998, when Bin Laden first issued his fatwa declaring war on the West, one of its five signatories was Fazlul Rehman, a still-shadowy figure linked to Huji and, according to Bin Laden's fatwa, the head of global jihad in Bangladesh.

Neither the current government nor the opposition parties paid adequate attention to the rise of religious militancy or to the social problems underlying it. This year, for the fifth time in a row, Bangladesh was named the most corrupt country on earth by Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog group. Almost once a week, hartals, or strikes, most often led by the two endlessly feuding main political parties, shut down the country. During a hartal, leaving one's house is forbidden, and anyone traveling on the roads runs the risk of being killed. It is impossible to go to work, to school, or even to the hospital.

As a result, the young thugs of the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh and other militant groups virtually control several remote districts. In Rajshahi, where the insurgency is at its worst, a political thug who claimed to have fought in Afghanistan attempted to install a Taliban regime. He went into hiding last year after U.S. pressure finally forced the government to issue a warrant for his arrest.

In the run-up to the 2006 national elections, political violence masked by religious extremism and widespread corruption will flourish unless the international community pays greater attention. Bangladesh doesn't need a democratic revolution; they've already had one. The vast majority of Bangladeshis do not support the militants nor do they want Islamic law.

"It used to be when the mullahs came asking for money, we'd shoo them away. Now, I'd pay," one devout and moderate Muslim professional told me. "It won't be long before I get a letter telling me that my wife and daughter need to wear burkas," he said. "What will I do? I'll have no choice; they'll have to wear them."

What Bangladeshis want, he said, is continued international pressure on the BNP to distance itself from the militancy. What they want are monitors for next year's elections who don't just sit in the polling places but go to the villages to make sure that the patterns of political intimidation—including the widespread use of rape—are broken. What they want is a newfound international interest that takes nongovernmental organizations into the rural areas where 90 percent of the country lives. All these steps are possible and much more cost-effective for the United States than simply quadrupling the size of the CIA station in Dhaka.

To most of us, Bangladesh seems like a remote mess—poor and devoid of natural resources. The country has been plagued by sectarian violence since its independence, but the nature of that violence is changing, and we ignore the rise of militant Islam there at our own peril. The jihadists will continue to do their best to make our civil intervention look dangerous and impractical. Our disinterest is their most effective weapon.

Eliza Griswold reported from Bangladesh earlier this year


US condemns Bangladesh violence

Saturday's bomb attack left 22 people dead

By South Asia analyst Kamal Ahmed

The United States has condemned the recent bomb attacks and politically motivated violence in Bangladesh.

The State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, in a statement said that the people of Bangladesh deserved the opportunity to express political opinions without the threat of violence from any quarter.

His statement follows Saturday's bomb attack at a ruling party office near Dhaka that left 22 people dead.

It is one of the strongest condemnations of the worsening political situation in Bangladesh by a western government.

The statement said that political violence has plagued Bangladesh for too long.

Eye on polls

Mr Boucher mentioned attacks on political rallies, cultural celebrations and religious gatherings.

He urged the government to thoroughly investigate all the attacks and prosecute the perpetrators so that people can enjoy their civil and political rights, particularly voting in upcoming elections.

He said that the people of Bangladesh deserve the opportunity to vote freely in elections this autumn.

Most western countries including the United States have for some time been calling for the renouncing of violence and the resumption of dialogue to ensure free and fair elections.

All these countries have also promised help to ensure that elections are run smoothly and expressed their willingness to monitor the campaigning and voting.

Some of them have expressed fears about likely violence as they think that the next election would be one of the most fiercely fought contests in Bangladesh's history.

These concerns have increased as a result of the recent bombings with three such attacks in less than two months killing about 40 people.


Bangladesh government backs religious violence against minorities

Written by Staff Writer

Friday, 17 June 2005

The Bangladesh government has aligned itself with extremist groups that foment violence against the minority Ahmadiyya community, according a human rights group.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) today released a 45-page report, Breach of Faith: Persecution of the Ahmadiyya Community in Bangladesh, which documents the campaign of violence, harassment and intimidation unleashed by the Khatme Nabuwat (KN)--an umbrella group of Sunni Muslim extremists--against the Ahmadiyya community.

The rights group clamed that the KN and other extremist groups have attacked Ahmadiyya mosques, beaten and killed some Ahmadis, and prevented access to schools and sources of livelihood for others.

They have demanded an official declaration that Ahmadis are not Muslims and a ban on all Ahmadi writings and missionary activities.

Founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Ahmadiyya community is a religious group that identifies itself as Muslim and differs with other Muslims over the exact definition of Prophet Mohammad being the "final" monotheist prophet.  

Under the Bangladesh National Party-led government, discrimination and violence against the Ahmadis has intensified, HRW claimed.

The report documents the government's failure to prosecute those responsible for anti-Ahmadi violence.

It condemns the January ban on all Ammadiyya publications imposed by the government.  

HRW charged that the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islamic Okye Jyote, junior coalition partners in the government, do not recognize the Ahmadis as Muslims and have been involved in fomenting religious violence against them and other religious minorities.

"It's a dangerous moment in Bangladesh when the government becomes complicit in religious violence," Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division said. "The authorities have emboldened extremists by failing to prosecute those engaged in anti-Ahmadi violence and by banning Ahmadiyya publications." 

“Early in the morning, after the Fajr (dawn) prayers, a mob from the village surrounded my house, dragged me out, and tied me to a tree,” Ahmadi faithful Mohammad Mominul Islam alias Raqee said. “Then they started beating me with sticks and rods. Then they carried me to the local market and beat me more, this time even more badly.”

“Just when I thought I was going to die, local policemen came to the spot and took me to another house and then the policemen asked me to leave the Ahmadiyya faith,” he recounted. “When I refused, the policemen started beating me. Then they took me to the police station and put me in the lock-up where they handcuffed me and beat me again. The next morning, at about 11 o'clock, the policemen took me to the district headquarters of the police and beat me again.”  

Human Rights Watch said that the ongoing official persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan provides a chilling precedent.

Since 2000, an estimated 325 Ahmadis have been formally charged in criminal cases, including blasphemy, for professing their religion in Pakistan. As a result, thousands of Ahmadis have fled Pakistan to seek asylum abroad. 

"Unless the Bangladesh government acts to allow Ahmadis to practice their faith in peace, the situation could spiral out of control," Adams said. "Continued failure to act will confirm the growing impression that Bangladesh's ruling coalition is more religiously intolerant than any government since the country's founding."


Bangladesh described as land with skyrocketing violence

WASHINGTON: The daughter of the slain Bangladeshi politician AMS Kibria has charged in an article published here that political violence has “skyrocketed” in her country and the government is resisting the popular demands for an international investigation into the 27 January murder.

Nazli Kibria, a Boston professor, writes in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that her father’s assassination has plunged Bangladesh into a political crisis reminiscent of what happened in Lebanon in the wake of the assassination of the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. People from all walks of life have taken to the streets to express their outrage at the killing. They are also convinced that the government is implicated in it. However, the Bangladesh government - an alliance of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-i-Islami - has shown no interest in ordering an independent, internationally supervised investigation.

Ms Nazli writes, “What prevails today in Bangladesh is a climate of impunity for terrorists, fostered by the apathy of the government and its repeated claims that there is no terrorism problem. And so those who wish to hurl grenades at members of the opposition or to bomb secular cultural events or to club to death progressive writers and intellectuals may do so without fear of prosecution. Music festivals, movie theaters and even a Valentine’s Day reception have all been the scenes of recent attacks. Political violence has skyrocketed. Government security forces are engaged in politically motivated and extrajudicial killings … In its efforts to suppress dissent, the BNP/Jamaat-i-Islami government has engaged in mass arrests of opposition party members prior to their planned public rallies. Harassment of religious minorities has sadly become an expected matter.”

She views the growth of what she calls “Bangladeshi Taliban” as an alarming development, since they are reported to have links to international terrorist organisations. One of the Islamist parties, she states, is Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, which has imposed its own Taliban-like rule in parts of northwestern Bangladesh. It was only last month, after considerable international pressure, that the government declared its intent to arrest its leader, known as “Bangla Bhai.”

According to Ms Kibria, “Even as the US has expanded its war on terrorism across more and more of the world, Bangladesh has escaped attention. In many ways this is not surprising. Bangladesh has never, since its bloody and triumphant birth in 1971, been seen by the US to be a country of much strategic importance. In the calculations of those who make foreign policy, Bangladesh is greatly overshadowed in significance by its feuding nuclear-power neighbours, Pakistan and India. But in the long term, the price of inaction could be high. Is it prudent to ignore a political crisis in a country of 141 million people, home to the fourth-largest concentration of Muslims in the world?”

She warns that Bangladesh, if neglected, could turn into a “rogue state” which would lend aid and comfort to Islamist extremists. The situation in Bangladesh is not irreversible, she points out, as there is the country has a strong and well-rooted tradition of democracy and secular government. She concludes, “Nothing will bring back my father or end for me the painful knowledge of the brutal and senseless way in which he was killed.

But I hope his assassination will mark a new beginning for Bangladesh, one in which the country moves away from terror and toward the vision of democracy, justice and tolerance that my father held so dear.” khalid hasan

Journalists' lives at risk in Bangladesh

By Shaikh Azizur Rahman

October 22, 2005

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- A chill ran down the spine of journalist Mizanur Rahman when a neatly folded white cloth symbolizing an Islamic burial shroud tumbled out of a package he received by mail last month.

    An accompanying letter addressed to Mr. Rahman, a reporter for the Dhaka daily Janakantha (People's Voice), said that because of his "anti-Islamic" reporting, his days were numbered and he would soon be in a white burial shroud.

    White shrouds and death threats also reached eight other journalists the same day in Satkhira, a district in southwestern Bangladesh.

    The letters were signed by leaders of the outlawed militant group Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (Awakened Muslim Citizens of Bangladesh, often referred to by its initials, JMJB), the orthodox Islamist movement Ahl-e-Hadith (followers of the Sayings of the Prophet) and Jamat-e-Islami Bangladesh, an Islamist political party in the ruling coalition in Bangladesh. The letters threatened that the journalists would be "slaughtered" because their writings attacked clerics who want to transform the country into a pure Islamic state.

    "We are determined to bring total Islamic rule in Bangladesh through an armed revolution," the letters said. "You are some of the obstacles on our way to achieve these goals. You are the country's enemies, so you face removal from this Earth."

    Of the nine reporters who received these death threats, five are Hindus, and the letters warned them that as non-Muslims, they had no right to report on Islamic matters.

    Kalyan Banerjee, a Hindu reporter for the popular Dhaka daily Pratham Alo (First Light), said: "In the letter accompanying the kafan (burial shroud) they said to me, Hindu religious functions would not be allowed in Pak Bangla (Holy Bangladesh) and no Hindu will be allowed to vote in the next parliamentary elections in Bangladesh. They will be slaughtered if they try to vote."

    Mr. Banerjee, who reported on growing Islamist extremist activities in the area in a recent series of reports, said that he is also getting threatening calls from unknown people on his cell phone.

    JMJB and Ahl-e-Hadith, among other Islamist groups, were accused of masterminding the Aug. 17 violence in which more than 400 bombs exploded simultaneously across Bangladesh, killing two persons and injuring more than 200.

    This month, the authorities announced a reward of $15,200 for information leading to the arrest of underground JMJB chief Siddiqur Islam, alias Bangla Bhai.

    Also this month, JMJB claimed responsibility for a series of Oct. 3 courtroom bombings in three towns that killed two persons and injured more than 50. The radical group has been campaigning to establish strict Islamic rule in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority country governed by secular laws.

    Statistics suggest that journalism is a dangerous profession in Bangladesh. In the past10 years, at least 19 journalists have been murdered and more than 800 have been injured in attacks by Islamist fundamentalists, political parties, criminals and various government agencies including the police.

    Dipankar Chakrabarty, editor of a regional daily Durjoy Bangla (Invincible Bangla) was hacked to death with a machete in the central town of Sherpur last October.

    Before his death, he told Reporters Without Borders that anonymous callers were threatening him by phone with death if he did not stop reporting on the ties between some powerful politicians and a criminal organization in the area.

    In January 2004, a bomb in the southwestern district of Khulna killed Manik Saha, a reporter for the Dhaka daily New Age and stringer for the British Broadcasting Corp.

    Some of his colleagues think Mr. Saha was killed because of his book investigating shrimp mafias who were converting paddy fields into shrimp farms, damaging the environment. The veteran journalist received many death threats by phone before he was slain.

    A banned extremist Maoist group called Purba Bangla Communist Party (PBCP) claimed responsibility for the Saha murder. A week after the killing, PBCP threatened nine other reporters with death if they did not stop writing about the dead reporter.

    In another bomb attack at Khulna in February, the PBCP injured three journalists and killed Belal Ahmed, a reporter with the national daily Dainik Sangram (Daily Struggle). The Maoist group -- which claimed to have killed four journalists, all "enemies of the poor" -- says it has 30 other journalists on its hit list.

    Golam Mortoza, executive editor of Weekly 2000, an investigative weekly, recently received a death threat from unknown groups. He said in Dhaka that many politically frustrated ex-Maoist cadres had formed criminal gangs who are targeting journalists reporting on extortion and racketeering.

    Sumi Khan, a Weekly 2000 crime reporter who was stabbed by unidentified assailants last year, agrees. "I was targeted because I reported how religious extremists, criminal mafias and illegal gunrunners were thriving in my area," she said. "Such attacks on the media throughout the country try to block the free flow of information."

    Mrs. Khan, who narrowly escaped death, was awarded the Guardian newspaper's Hugo Young Award for courageous journalism in London this year.

    Although most of the journalists threatened in Bangladesh exposed corruption, crime and growing religious extremism, some have been targeted for revealing the covert activities of politicians.

    "At election time, the major political parties accept help from shady political elements to win votes," said Naim Islam Khan, president of the Bangladesh Center for Development, Journalism and Communication.

    "Some take donations from criminal gangs, providing protection in exchange," so reporters exposing such politician-criminal connections face threats to their lives.

    Although police have registered more than a thousand cases of violence against journalists in the past10 years, nearly all cases remain unsolved.

    Journalists in Bangladesh have even been targeted by the government.

    Nurul Kabir, executive editor of the Dhaka daily New Age, thinks reporters in Bangladesh are targeted by parts of the government because they expose activities or plans that many citizens oppose.

    "Journalists who are critical about corruption and malfeasance in ruling circles are being targeted -- especially outside the capital -- by activists supporting the ruling coalition. They are also attacked by supporters of the main opposition Awami League when they reveal its indifference toward people's suffering," Mr. Kabir said.

    In 2002, Saleem Samad, a stringer for Time magazine, was detained by the army for helping a British Channel 4 team film a documentary on Islamist extremism and persecution of minority Hindus in Bangladesh.

    Mr. Samad was released after 55 days of detention, following protests from human- and media-rights groups outside the country.

    "[The army] told me to sign a statement admitting that I engaged in activities detrimental to the national interest. When I refused to sign the false statement, they started torturing me in a dark, tiny cell. They did not give me enough food and water. I was released only after the High Court ruled that my detention was illegal," said Mr. Samad.

    Last year, when Mr. Samad was in Canada to attend an international seminar, the army, apparently at the behest of the government, raided his home in Dhaka looking for him. Friends and relatives advised him not to return to Bangladesh, and the 52-year-old journalist has applied for political asylum in Canada.

    "Although I don't like to live in a foreign land, I cannot return to my country. I know this time they would kill me. They are angry because of my last Time write-up which described Bangladesh as a country in utter 'dysfunction,' " said Mr. Samad, who is now living in Ottawa as a refugee as the Canadian government considers his application for asylum.

    "Death threats are becoming a pervasive and insidious part of daily life for journalists in Bangladesh," said Christopher Warren, president of the International Federation of Journalists. "The intimidation [of journalists] is a direct violation of civil rights and liberties, which are the basic tools for a successful democracy."

    The bitter rivalry between Begum Khaleda Zia, the prime minister of Bangladesh, and opposition leader Sheikh Hasina Wajed has polarized the whole country. Even journalists are now politicized to a point where individual editors, reporters and newspapers are better known for their political leanings than for the contents of their work.

    A senior editor at a popular daily in Dhaka said: "Until a few years ago, you would find most of us with independent views, but now we are either Khaleda Zia supporters or belong to Sheikh Hasina's camp. Unless the two groups are reunited, journalists will continue to be attacked in Bangladesh. But this will never happen unless the two top political leaders come to good terms."


2 Suicide Bombers Attack Courthouses in Bangladesh

At least seven people are killed and more than 50 hurt in the coordinated assaults blamed on a Muslim militant group seeking an Islamic state.

By Nurul Alam and Paul Watson, Special to The Times

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh — Two suicide bombers targeting courthouses killed at least seven people Tuesday in an escalating terrorism campaign blamed on Muslim extremists demanding an Islamic state.

Two police officers were among those who died in the blasts in this southeastern port city and Gazipur, 20 miles north of the capital, Dhaka. More than 50 people were injured, 20 of them critically.

The coordinated suicide bombings were the first in Bangladesh, where security forces have been struggling to stop increasingly sophisticated militant attacks and bring the masterminds to justice.

The first explosion Tuesday occurred around 9 a.m., when a bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint outside a court building in Chittagong as police scanned him with a metal detector. The two police officers were killed in the blast, and several others were seriously burned.

The bomber struck before most lawyers and judges had arrived for Tuesday's sessions, said lawyer Shakwat Hossain. "If the bombers could have carried the things inside the court, it would have caused more havoc," Hossain said.

Forty minutes later, a suicide bomber walked into the Gazipur district court's law library, disguised in a lawyer's black gown and tie, and detonated his explosives, killing himself and at least five others, said police sub-inspector Abdul Malek.

The bombers were suspected of being with the militant group Jamaat-ul-Mujahedin, which authorities recently warned was plotting suicide attacks to press its demands for an Islamic state governed by strict Sharia law.

"We don't know how to control the situation if such highly powerful bombs are blasted by suspected suicide bombers," said Chittagong district police Supt. Aftab Ahmed.

Most of Bangladesh's 141 million people are Muslim, and most of them are moderates. But extremists have grown increasingly violent in recent months.

When Britain granted independence to the Indian subcontinent in 1947, what is now Bangladesh was part of the newly created Pakistan. Bangladesh, officially a secular state, broke away, with the help of neighboring India's military, during a 1971 war.

The opposition Awami League, which led Bangladesh to independence, accuses the government of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia of supporting Islamic militants. Her Bangladesh Nationalist Party's main partner in the coalition government is the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, which was banned until a prohibition against religious-based parties was lifted in 1979.

The Jamaat-e-Islami wants Bangladesh to be governed by Islamic principles established in the Koran. The group's leaders insist they want to achieve their goals peacefully, but opponents accuse them of fomenting violence.

Bangladesh has banned three extremist groups that are believed responsible for militant attacks: the Jamaat-ul-Mujahedin, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami.

But the groups have threatened to assassinate politicians, judges and other leaders. In addition, Bangladesh has been rocked by a series of bloody attacks in recent months.

On Aug. 17, between 200 and 500 bombs exploded across the country over a few hours. The blasts, which killed two people and injured more than 100, were small and seen as a warning from the militants that they were capable of doing much worse damage.

A militant killed two judges Nov. 14, tossing a bomb in their minivan seconds after trying to hand them leaflets demanding Bangladesh be ruled by Sharia.

"Law framed by humans cannot continue and only the laws of God will prevail," the leaflets said.

Three days later, a conference of the U.S. and other international donors warned in Dhaka that Zia's government must move quickly to stop rampant corruption and growing militancy.

"We are concerned because such incidents happen only in a very unstable environment," World Bank Vice President Praful Patel told reporters during the donors meeting. "And if you don't do something about it very quickly, Bangladesh will become known more and more as a place of terrorism and violence."


Culture shock of a Peace Corps woman


After living a month in Bangladesh, I thought I'd seen everything. I was certain nothing could shock me anymore. Then she knocked on my window.

I was on the train, and she'd come to my window, begging for money. Her face was horribly scarred. Unlike so many other beggars I've forgotten, her face will be burned into my memory, along with pain, horror and a marked feeling of gratitude for all I have.

Her skin was melted, her features displaced. She had a look in her eyes that communicated the terror she had lived and the hopelessness she felt.

Two months later, I sat across from another woman, Gazi Nasrin Akter - beautiful, educated, sophisticated and wealthy. She and the beggar woman were completely different, yet both shared an elemental similarity that determines everything in their lives: they are women in a country and culture that significantly marginalizes their gender.

I can't tell you the name of the beggar woman, nor do I know the precise reason behind what happened to her. I do know that she was the victim of an acid attack.

Such attacks occur here for one of two reasons: because a woman refuses a proposal from a man and he wants to ensure that she never marries, or her family does not give her husband a large enough dowry. Such treatment was among the many topics discussed during the gender issues training portion of my Peace Corps orientation in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Akter said she knows such attacks frequently occur. I spoke with her about her feelings on gender issues when I met her, two months after I saw the beggar woman. The 28-year-old Akter said she considered herself lucky.

"Well, lucky means I am mostly happy and haven't been hurt like this," she said hesitantly when asked what she meant by "lucky." She also talked at length of how frustrating her role as a Bangladeshi woman can be - always considered a second-class citizen, constant harassment and having to get permission from not only her husband, but her father- and mother-in-law to do anything, be it cooking a meal, going to the market or walking down the street to visit a friend.

"But usually they let me do these things," Akter said. "I am lucky. For many (women), they can't do anything."

Akter said the fact that she was able to marry a man she knew and loved made her lucky. "The Muslim faith and Bangladeshi culture mandates that marriages be arranged," Akter said. "But I got around it." She met her husband when she was 23, while attending Dhaka University. When she realized that she loved him, Akter went to an aunt she was close to and told her of the man.

"I trusted her," Akter said. "I knew she wanted me to be happy. So she approached my father and said she had found this boy. And made it seem as if it was her idea. It worked."

Akter, mother of a 1-year-old, worked as an English teacher for five years. She quit after she became pregnant. Twenty-six-year-old Tanik Munir used words such as challenging, difficult and unbearable when describing life as a Bangladeshi woman.

"It isn't anything you would imagine it as being," she said. "Nothing like America."

Munir, who is single, works as the safety and security officer for Peace Corps Bangladesh. She admitted that living in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, made her life a lot easier because the cultural norms aren't as strictly enforced. But she stressed that even with that, her life still is extremely restricted because of her gender.

"In Bangladesh, a woman is dependent on a man her whole life - from birth to death," Munir said. "First, it is her father. Oftentimes, she will be dependent on a brother, too. Then it is her husband and father-in-law until she dies. She can never do anything without permission from these men."

Akter said this lifelong dependence is why women are second- class citizens in society. "They are always taught it is this way," she said. "They know no other way. Even if they were allowed to do something on their own, they wouldn't be able to. They have never been taught how to live on their own." The cultural dress of Bangladesh also oppresses women, Munir said. The traditional dress of unmarried women is a shalwar kameez - baggy pants, a baggy, calf-length tunic, long scarf draped around her shoulders to cover her chest and all but the moon of her face covered. Married women wear a sari, yards of fabric wrapped around to form a dress often with their head or face covered.

Many women, especially in cities outside Dhaka, never leave their homes without wearing a burka and a piece of cloth on their head covering everything but their eyes.

"Women are put behind a curtain by their dress," Munir said. "... It is a way to keep women hidden."

The oppression isn't just cultural, Akter said. There are Bangladeshi laws that also marginalize woman - and ostracize some.

"If a woman has a child and she is not married, she and the child are nothing here," she said. "And I don't mean only that people will hate them. The child is not eligible for school or anything."

When a child registers for school, he or she must give a father's name. In the case of most unwed mothers, Akter said, the name of the father generally is not divulged for fear of retribution for "tarnishing" the man's name. "That is where all the street children come from," she said. "They are illegitimate boys and girls. They will never have a life."

Munir described the role of Bangladeshi women as maintaining a household at any cost. From a young age, girls are taught that their role is to sacrifice all; to be patient, shy, silent and to bear all pain, she said.

For example, if a family needs a child to quit school to help out at home or to work, it is a daughter, Munir said. Rarely is a son's education sacrificed.

Bangladeshis define the role of a man as powerful - it is, after all, a male-dominated society, Akter said. Men have sole responsibility for all decision-making; a woman is never consulted. Her opinion holds no importance, she added.

Akter speaks from personal experience. "There are many things I would do differently," she said. "But I don't have those options. I never get to say how I feel or what I want to do. It is solely up to my husband and his family."

Dr. Ayub Abu Hamid of Comilla, Bangladesh, has been married 27 years. He acknowledged that women are mistreated, but said he thinks things are changing for the better.

"Every day I think people are seeing the light," he said. "I've seen the difference from the way things were with my parents' generation and the way things are now. Yes, we have a very long way to come." Akter and Munir agreed there have been improvements.

"The literacy rate is increasing - for women, too," Munir said. "And the government is giving an education incentive stipend for the education of girls. And some jobs in the government have a 10 percent quota for women."

And crimes against women - murder, torture, rape, all once common occurrences, Akter said - are decreasing.

Hamid stressed that blaming the Koran and the Muslim faith for oppressing women is a mistake.

"People all the time attribute these things to the Koran," he said. "Show me in the Koran where it says a woman can't make her own decisions. "Like anything, it takes time. I hope that my daughter feels respected and loved by her husband. And I hope she feels happy in the marriage," he said.

"I think her mother and I raised her and her brother in a way where they were treated equally. We tried." Hamid's daughter, Tanjina, 25, is married and lives with her husband and his parents in Dhaka.

Her marriage was arranged; the couple wed three weeks after they met. They saw each other three times before they married.


Twin suicide attacks kill eight in Bangladesh
Dhaka November 29, 2005 8:15:06 PM IST
At least eight people were killed Tuesday in two suicide bomb attacks near court houses in Bangladesh which has seen a spate of violence by Islamist militants in recent months.

The near simultaneous attacks triggered widespread protest among lawyers who announced a daylong nationwide general strike Thursday. The opposition allies led by the Awami League have declared their support for the strike.

The attacks left at least 50 people wounded with many of them said to be in critical condition.

"This seems to be the first ever case of suicide attacks in the country... as security has been beefed up everywhere, the attackers have been changing their strategy," Inspector General of Bangladesh Police Abdul Quayyum told IANS.

In the southeast port city of Chittagong, about 250 km south of here, the bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body as police stopped him at the check-post near the court building Tuesday morning.

A constable and two other people, including the bomber, were killed, police said.

In Gazipur, the suicide bomber, clad in a lawyer's gown, blew himself up in the bar library, killing six people. Police suspect the bomber was among the dead.

The victims in Gazipur, on the outskirts of Dhaka, included a lawyer and a former local government body representative.

As news of the bombings spread in the city, alarmed parents rushed to school to take their children home, fearing further violence.

A wave of bombings has rattled Bangladesh in recent months after fundamentalist groups led by Afghan war veterans launched a campaign for Islamic rule based on the Shariat.

The militants have often targeted lawyers. On Nov 14, two judges were killed when bombs were thrown at their car. In October, militants attacked courts in three districts.

On Aug 17, there were nearly 400 simultaneous bombings across the country. An outlawed Islamist group, Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh, led by Afghan war veteran Shaikh Abdur Rahman has been held responsible for the attacks.

Rahman, who is absconding, is believed to have slipped through the police dragnet minutes before they raided a house here Nov 18. Police had recently said the militants had formed suicide squads.

Security has been beefed up as the militants have threatened more attacks in Bangladesh, the world's third largest Muslim country after Indonesia and Pakistan.


Bangladesh hard-line Muslims demand government declare sect non-Muslim

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP)

Hundreds of hard-line Muslims rallied in Bangladesh's capital on Sunday to demand the government declare a minority Islamic sect non-Muslim, police said.

About 300 activists from the Islamic International Khatme Nubuwat Movement marched through Dhaka's streets, chanting slogans against the Ahmadiyya Islamic sect, said police official Ali Ahmed Masud.

Police intercepted the march, but no violence was reported, Masud said.

He said more than 100 police were guarding an Ahmadiyya mosque that the hard-liners had said they planned to seize.

"The situation is under control," Masud said.

The International Khatme Nubuwat Movement has demanded that the government introduce a bill in Parliament to declare the Ahmadiyyas non-Muslims.

The group also wants a ban on the Ahmadiyyas' writings and missionary activities.

Bangladesh has about 100,000 Ahmadiyyas, who differ from other Muslims over whether Islam's founder, Muhammad, was the religion's final prophet.

The group on Friday announced plans to put up signs in front of the 120 Ahmadiyya mosques across Bangladesh, declaring them places "places of worship," not mosques.

The International Khatme Nubuwat Movement had earlier warned the government there would be "bloodshed," if necessary, to protect Islam from heretics.

Ahmadiyya spokesman S.M. Tauhidul Islam said the group fears violent attacks by the hard-liners.

"We want protection," he said Saturday.

He said the group has alerted Ahmadiyyas across Bangladesh, a Sunni Muslim-majority nation of 144 million people.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner S.M. Mizanur Rahman said they would provide the minority with adequate protection.

The Ahmadiyya sect was founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, an Indian religious leader who claimed to be a prophet seeking Islam's renewal.

Its followers have been persecuted in various countries, and is banned from calling itself Muslim in Pakistan.

New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized Bangladesh's government last year for failing to prosecute those behind an alleged campaign of violence, harassment and intimidation against Ahmadiyyas.