Bangladesh: Christians Beaten; Mob Threatens to Burn Homes

Friday, June 29, 2007

Muslim neighbors strike converts from Islam with bricks, clubs; extremists say they will kill two.

DUBLIN, June 28 (Compass Direct News) -- Muslim villagers armed with bricks and wooden clubs savagely beat 10 Christian converts in Nilphamari district, Bangladesh, on Tuesday (June 26) and threatened to burn down their homes if they did not leave by today.

The mob gave the Christians an ultimatum on Wednesday (June 27) to leave the village within 24 hours, threatening more beatings along with home burnings; that deadline expired today without incident. Muslim extremists also threatened to kill two Christians.

A human rights advocate working on behalf of the Christians who requested anonymity said he had contacted local police and government officials, including the district commissioner, but “they are very slow to respond.” Police rejected the Christians’ attempt to file a complaint, instead threatening to arrest them for “converting Muslims.”

After receiving news of the beating, the advocate traveled to Durbachari Bhatiapara and Laksmirdanga villages to find that the mob had bound both male and female converts with ropes in their homes and “seriously wounded” them. Several victims required hospital treatment, and one house was destroyed in the attack.

During the beating, one of the believers picked up a phone and called a Christian leader in a nearby town, saying, “They are beating my wife. Why should they beat her? And now they are coming for me!”

Muslim villagers had told the Christians, referring to local authorities, “Nobody will come to save you. We are stronger than they are!” the advocate told Compass.

“Now these believers feel helpless,” he added. “I just visited one of them in hospital, but he was not getting good treatment so I checked him out and tried to admit him to a private clinic, but the clinic is expensive. These people also have no food to eat, so I’m trying to buy rice and lentils for them, but in the current situation it’s dangerous even to carry sacks of rice to their homes.”

Conversions from Islam

The attack came after 42 men and women from Muslim backgrounds were baptized at a local river on June 12.

Within days, authorities at the mosque in Durbachari banned Christians from using the village tube-well, a serious deprivation as it is the area’s only source of potable water. The Christians have since resorted to carrying water from a river 600 meters from their homes.

Muslim extremists also issued death threats against Abul Hossain and Barek Ali, two villagers appointed as leaders of the new converts.

Kamal Hossain, a cousin of Abul Hossain’s and the principal of a local madrassa (Islamic school), has repeatedly summoned Hossain to his home, demanding that he give up his Christian faith. On Sunday (June 24), he argued with Hossain for several hours before writing a statement claiming that the Christian had forcibly converted local Muslims.

At the same time, a local Muslim cleric has questioned and threatened Barek Ali repeatedly, asking how much money he received for his conversion and demanding that he abandon his Christian faith.

Ali denied receiving monetary incentives. He pulls a rickshaw, a form of local transport, for a living, while his wife works in a neighbor’s field to supplement the family income. Last week Muslim extremists damaged his rickshaw beyond repair, leaving him without work or funds to replace the vehicle.

No Protection

As the 24-hour deadline expired today, the advocate, who said police had not yet come forward to assist the believers, told Compass, “We have applied to the district commissioner, to no avail. It seems the extremists have strong links with local government.”

He appealed to the international community to intervene.

“Now these Christians are panicking,” he added. “They can’t get drinking water. None of them can go out to work for fear of attack. Some are still in hospital. They need food, medicine and protection.”

The Christians don’t know where they will stay if they are forced to leave, he said, adding, “But incredibly, in spite of this pressure, they have not denied their faith.”

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