Bangladesh: Officials Offer Protection for Attacked Converts

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Threatened Christians allowed to return to fields, but children cannot attend local school.

DUBLIN, July 3 (Compass Direct News) -- Intervention from high-ranking police officers and government officials has ensured temporary security for a group of Christian converts beaten last week in Nilphamari district, Bangladesh.

Muslim villagers had attacked the Christians on June 26 and on Wednesday (June 27) given them a 24-hour deadline to leave the village or face further beatings and the destruction of their homes. (See Compass Direct News, “Christians in Bangladesh Beaten; Mob Threatens to Burn Homes,” June 28.)

Police have stationed a special protective team in Durbachari for three months, allowing the converts to stay in their homes and return to work in their fields; but their children can no longer attend the local madrassa (Islamic school) – the only form of education available in the village.

Attacks in Durbachari and neighboring Laksmirdanga villages followed the June 12 baptisms of 42 men and women from Muslim backgrounds in a local river. Muslims in both villages bound both male and female Christian converts in their homes and beat them severely. Several victims required hospital treatment, and one house was destroyed in the attacks.

Advocates Detained

After repeated appeals to local police failed, human rights advocates contacted James Hilton, a retired government official, who in turn contacted the senior police commissioner in Dhaka and his subordinate in Rajshahi Division.

An investigative team was quickly formed consisting of the divisional commissioner and several district and sub-district police officers. The team traveled to Nilphamari on Thursday evening (June 28) and interviewed some of the victims, who insisted that they had become Christians of their own free will – not through bribery or inducement as claimed by their Muslim neighbors.

While the investigation took place, three advocates who had gone to the local police station to file a complaint on behalf of the converts were taken into police custody. Police rejected the complaint and locked the Rev. Hirak Adhikari and his two companions in a room at the station at around 11 p.m.

Adhikari managed to phone friends and inform them of his whereabouts before police confiscated his mobile phone. Several associates, including the chairman of the Bangladesh Bible Society, called the station asking for fair treatment of the detainees.

One of Adhikari’s friends set out to visit him at the police station but turned back after hearing that Muslim vigilantes were waiting nearby.

Police told a journalist who visited the station on Friday (June 29) that they had arrested the men on charges of “inducing Muslims to convert to the Christian faith.” When the police were contacted by phone, however, they denied making any arrests and said the three were being held “for their own safety” while officials tried to reach a compromise between Muslim and Christian parties in the village.

Adhikari and his associates were finally released at about 2 p.m. on Friday.

“After being released, I immediately went to visit every believer’s house to comfort and encourage them,” Adhikari told Compass. “A temporary police camp is now there, and they said they would be there for three months.”

Biased Media Reports

Adhikari said many local journalists had also arrived in Durbachari village by Friday afternoon, but “they received false reports from Muslim villagers that the Christians were converted through offers of money, jobs and houses. Even the village chairman falsely testified about this to local newspapers.”

Another local source confirmed that both print and television journalists had interviewed Christians and Muslims in Durbachari. Some reported in favor of the Christians and others in favor of the Muslims.

“One newspaper, the Naya Diganta, reported on Monday (July 2) that five Christian organizations were converting people in the village through offers of rice, jobs and financial security, a charge that the local Christians flatly deny,” the source added.

Yesterday a senior police constable called a meeting between Christian and Muslim parties in Durbachari, stressing the need for religious tolerance.

“He made his point very strongly that every person in Bangladesh had the right to practice their own religion, and if anyone made further trouble for the Christians he would take serious action,” Adhikari said. “But he also said, ‘If anyone offers bribes for a Muslim to convert, that person will also be punished.’”

The parties then formed a village committee to maintain peace between Christians and Muslims. Adhikari was pleased with the outcome but had some reservations.

“I am thankful to everyone who prayed and intervened on behalf of these Christians,” he said. “If we had not called for help, the situation would not have calmed down so quickly. Now the believers can stay in their homes and return to work. But they have been separated from their community, and their children can no longer study at the madrassa. They may have to build their own school, but they lack the resources.”

As another local source commented, “These Christians will need ongoing help to ensure that their rights are respected.”

Copyright © 2007 Compass Direct