http://www.ThePersecution.org/ Religious Persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

Home U.S. Department of State Annual Report (IRF) 2004: Bangladesh
Int’l Religious Freedom Report - 2004: Bangladesh

Excerpts from
U.S. Department of State
International Religious Freedom Report 2004 : Bangladesh
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
September 15, 2004
Bangladesh

The Constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but provides for the right to practice—subject to law, public order, and morality--the religion of one’s choice. While the Government generally respects this provision in practice, religion exerts a powerful influence on politics, and the Government is sensitive to the Muslim consciousness of its political allies and the majority of its citizens. [ Para # 1 ]

Citizens generally are free to practice the religion of their choice; however, police are normally ineffective in upholding law and order and are often slow to assist members of religious minorities who have been victims of crimes. Although the Government states that acts of violence against members of religious minority groups are politically or economically motivated and cannot be solely attributed to religion, human rights activists reported an increase in religiously-motivated violence. [ Para # 2 ]

The generally amicable relationships among religions in society contributed to religious freedom; however, the number of Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist minorities who experienced discrimination by the Muslim majority increased. During the period covered by this report, the Government was led by the centrist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which heads a four-party coalition that includes two Islamic parties, Jamaat Islami and the Islami Okiyya Jote. The majority of Hindus traditionally vote for the opposition Awami League (AL). In the 300-seat Parliament, religious minorities hold 7 seats—4 for the AL and 3 for BNP. Six non-Muslims hold deputy or state minister or equivalent positions in the Government. In 2002 the newly elected BNP Government arrested and intimidated AL leaders and repealed key legislation passed by the previous AL administration. The acute animosity between the two mainstream political parties often leads to politically motivated violence and sometimes heightened societal tensions between Muslims and Hindus. [ Para # 3 ]

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. [ Para # 4 ]

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of approximately 53,000 square miles, and it has a population of nearly 140 million. Sunni Muslims constitute 88 percent of the population. Approximately 10 percent of the population is Hindu. The remainder of the population is mainly Christian (mostly Catholic) and Buddhist. Members of these faiths are found predominantly in the tribal (non-Bengali) populations of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, although many other indigenous groups in various parts of the country are Christian. There also are small populations of Shi’a Muslims, Sikhs, Baha’is, animists, and Ahmadis. Estimates of their populations vary from a few hundred to 100,000 adherents for each faith. Religion is an important part of community identity for citizens, including those who do not participate actively in religious prayers or services. [ Para # 5 ]

A national survey in late 2003 confirmed that religion is the first choice by a citizen for self-identification; atheism is extremely rare. [ Para # 6 ]

There is no reliable estimate of the number of missionaries, but several Christian denominations operate schools, orphanages, or other social programs throughout the country. Several dozen missionaries, primarily based in Dhaka and Chittagong, are engaged in social-development projects. Ethnic and religious minority communities often overlap and are concentrated in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and northern regions of the country. [ Para # 7 ]

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but provides for the right to practice—subject to law, public order, and morality—the religion of one’s choice. The Government generally respects this provision in practice; however, some members of the Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, and Ahmadiya communities experience discrimination. [ Para # 8 ]

Religion exerts a powerful influence on politics, and the Government is sensitive to the Muslim consciousness of its political allies, Jamaat Islami and the Islami Okiyya Jote, as well as the majority of its citizens. [ Para # 11 ]

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

In December 2003, anti-Ahmadi activists killed a prominent Ahmadi leader in Jessore and announced a January 23 deadline for the Government to declare Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. On January 8, the Government announced a ban on all Ahmadiya publications. The ban has not been formalized, but police detained a boy for 3 days for possession of Ahmadiya books, and during demonstrations in April and May, police entered and seized documents from two Ahmadiya mosques. The Government has opposed court challenges to the ban on the grounds the ban has not been promulgated officially and is, therefore, beyond judicial scrutiny. With a few exceptions, the police are not enforcing the ban. [ Para # 23 ]

Abuses of Religious Freedom

Using a compilation of newspaper reports, Ain-O-Shalish Kendra (The Law and Mediation Center), a human rights NGO, filed in 2001 a writ petition with the High Court asking that the Government be ordered to investigate the reported incidents of post-election violence against minorities and submit its findings to the court. The Government submitted its report to the court in 2002, stating that it had taken action against perpetrators of violence against members of the minority communities wherever such incidents took place. The government report said investigations revealed that many of the reports were false or exaggerated. During the period covered by the report, the High Court took no further action in response to the Government’s report. [ Para # 29 ]

Improvement and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

Following demands by the IOJ, an Islamist coalition partner of the ruling BNP, that Ahmadiyya publications be banned and that Ahmadis be declared non-Muslims, the BDG announced such a ban on January 8. However, several days after senior-level visits by the U.S. Embassy and a Congressional delegation on January 11 to 14, the Prime Minister announced the Government would not declare Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. [ Para # 37 ]

After the U.S. Embassy and several human rights organizations expressed concerns, the Government in March deferred proposed legislation by a BNP parliamentarian that would have created a blasphemy law based on the Pakistani model. [ Para # 38 ]

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There are approximately 100,000 Ahmadis concentrated in Dhaka and several other locales. In the latter part of 2003, they were the targets of attacks and harassment prompted by clerics and the rhetoric of leaders of the Islami Okkiya Jote, an Islamic party and coalition partner of the ruling BNP. Many mainstream Muslims view Ahmadis as heretics. In October 2003, 17 Ahmadiya families in Kushtia were barricaded in their homes for several days. In November 2003, police stopped a mob of about 5,000 attempting to destroy an Ahmadiya mosque in Tejgaon, Dhaka. In December 2003, anti-Ahmadi activists killed a prominent Ahmadi leader in Jessore; however, there were no results from the subsequent police investigations in any of these cases. On January 8, the Government announced a ban on all Ahmadiya publications; the ban has not been promulgated officially, but in April and May, police entered and seized documents from Ahmadiya mosques (See Section II). [ Para # 43 ]

Reportedly, at the end of May, the Khatme Nabuwat Andolan, a group of anti-Ahmadiya Islamic clerics, threatened to evict thousands of Ahmadiyas from their homes in Patuakhali, Rangpur, and Chittagong. The same group also threatened to attack Ahmadiya mosques in those districts. Many Ahmadiyas appealed to the administration for protection and security. In April allegedly 12 Ahmadiya houses were destroyed; 15 Ahmadiya men and women in Rangpur reportedly were held against their will and pressed to renounce their faith. They were released after hours of verbal harassment; no legal action has been taken against their assailants. [ Para # 44 ]

Public reaction to the High Court’s 2001 ruling that fatwas were illegal resulted in violence. Following the court’s decision, a number of NGOs organized a rally in Dhaka and transported busloads of persons, mostly women, from different parts of the country to express support for the ruling, which they said was a victory for women and for all who suffered abuses in the name of fatwa. However, Muslim groups contended that fatwas were an integral part of a Muslim’s daily life and called the ruling an attack on their religious freedom. Islamist parties and the then-opposition BNP cited the ruling as an example of the Awami League government’s “anti-Islam” attitude. Islamic groups organized blockades to prevent buses from entering Dhaka for the rally and protested the ruling and the NGO rally. In the ensuing violence, a police officer was killed inside a mosque, and an NGO office was ransacked. Subsequently, a case was filed and several persons were arrested for the murder. One of the accused was a well-known Islamic scholar and the chairman of a faction within the IOJ; the high court dismissed all charges against him. [ Para # 45 ]

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government routinely discusses general and specific religious freedom issues with officials at all levels of the Government as well as with political party leaders and representatives of religious and minority communities. The U.S. Embassy twice encouraged Jamaat Islami to reiterate publicly its position that it supports tolerance and minority rights in the context of an attack on a religious minority member. Both times Jammat Islami demurred. Democracy and governance projects supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) include tolerance and minority rights components. The Embassy successfully encouraged the leader of a major political party to condemn attacks on Ahmadis. An article that the Ambassador wrote for local newspapers on Human Rights Day on December 10, 2003, stressed the importance of religious tolerance and other basic rights. [ Para # 49 ]

Due to the increased attacks on Ahmadis, the U.S. Government made religious freedom a central point of discussion in most meetings with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Law Minister, the Home Minister, and several other ministers beginning in December 2003. The Embassy expressed its views on this matter to the media and public forums related to democracy and governance. In February the Ambassador was the ranking guest at a religious freedom conference organized by a national human rights group. [ Para # 50 ]

Embassy and visiting U.S. Government officials regularly visited members of minority communities to hear their concerns and demonstrate public support. [ Para # 51 ]

Following demands for the ban of Ahmadiyya publications and that Ahmadis be declared non-Muslims, the Government announced such a ban on January 8. However, several days later, after senior-level representations by the Embassy and a visiting Congressional delegation, the Prime Minister announced that the Government would not declare Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. After the Embassy and several human rights organizations expressed concerns, the Government in March deferred proposed legislation by a BNP parliamentarian that would have created a blasphemy law based on the Pakistani model. [ Para # 52 ]


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