Christian Evangelist Escapes Kidnappers in Bangladesh

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Christian Evangelist Escapes Kidnappers in Bangladesh
Abduction Increases Concern for Welfare of Local Christians
by Sarah Page
June 17, 2003

DUBLIN, Ireland (Compass) -- The kidnapping of the Bengali evangelist known as “Moses” the last week of May confirms a worrying trend of violence against Christians in Bangladesh. An evangelist with Gospel for Asia (GFA), Moses was taken hostage by a Muslim terrorist group which then demanded a large ransom. GFA has not released the real names of the evangelist or the terrorist group for security reasons.

GFA reported on June 10 that Moses escaped on the night of June 9 after his eight guards fell asleep. With his hands tied behind his back, he ran for hours until he reached a town the next afternoon. Moses is suffering from exposure and lack of food but is in a safe place. His brother traveled to negotiate with the terrorist group, but GFA states, “The terrorists found and severely beat the brother and others with him. They threatened to kill Moses if the money was not brought soon. By God’s grace, these believers arrived home safely.” The rendezvous point with Moses’ captors was four days walk from the nearest bus stop.

The kidnapping created a dilemma for GFA administrators. If they were to meet demands for a ransom, a precedent would be set for other terrorist groups in the area. But the alternative -- almost certain death for Moses -- was unthinkable.

Moses’ kidnapping followed the murder of evangelist Hridoy Roy, stabbed to death on April 24. Hridoy was returning home from a Christian film presentation when a group of men attacked him. Entering his house, they tied Hridoy to his bed in “crucifixion style” and repeatedly stabbed him until he died.

These events are part of a growing wave of violence in Bangladesh. On June 4, Human Rights Watch (HRW) asked the government to revoke a new authority granted to local police, who can now “shoot-on-sight” as part of an anti-crime campaign. In the last week of May, the government announced it would also deploy military troops to combat rising crime rates throughout the country.

Bangladesh has suffered from religious and social tension since 1971, when the nation was partitioned from Pakistan. However, tensions have increased dramatically since the election of a fundamentalist Islamic government in October 2001.

The new government is a coalition of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and three other Islamic parties. The third largest party, Jamaat-e-Islami, wants Bangladesh to become an Islamic state. Their youth arm, Islami Chhatra Shibir or CSI, is known for its militancy.

The coalition government has denied any alliance with Muslim extremists. Yet in December 2001, provincial officials of the BNP were linked to the harassment of Christians in the Natore district of northern Bangladesh.

A December 2001 edition of the Bangladesh newspaper Daily Janakanta reported the plight of 50 Christian families living in Chatiangacha village, Natore. Following the October elections, their rice crops were destroyed by members of Jubodol, a local militant Islamic group. Then in November, young men began riding through the village threatening to rape their teenage daughters.

The riders would call out the name of a girl’s father and demand 10,000 to 20,000 BDT ($200 to $400) as a “donation.” Families were given one week to pay. If they refused, the riders would return for their daughters.

In some cases where fathers refused payment, they were summoned to the local office of the BNP and forced to make confessions on false charges. According to the Daily Janakantha, Sanaullah Norrbabu, general secretary of the BNP in Natore, signed several of the summons documents.

Persecution is not confined to the north. Helen, a young woman from a Christian village in southern Bangladesh, told Compass she and her friends never leave the village alone, but always travel in a group, preferably with a male companion.

The south is the home of many extremist groups. Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), the largest and most militant, is based in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. With 15,000 members, HuJI once called itself the “Bangladeshi Taliban” and claimed it would turn the country into a second Afghanistan. According to the U.S. State Department, HuJI runs at least six terrorist training camps in the southern hill region bordering Myanmar (Burma).

Other groups include the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), formed by Rohingya ethnic refugees from Myanmar. Video tapes recovered in Afghanistan and shown on CNN in August 2002 indicate that both the RSO and HuJI have ties with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

The rise of Islamic extremism can be traced in part to the 64,000 Muslim schools or “madrassas” established in Bangladesh over recent years. According to Bertil Lintner of Asia Pacific Media Services, many of these schools are funded by Islamic charity groups in Saudi Arabia and other countries on the Arabian peninsula.

In “The Creeping March of Christianity,” a thesis written by Islamic scholar Saidul Islam, the writer accuses Christian organizations of plotting to overthrow Bangladesh. He describes the work of many Christian NGOs in detail. “Their activities are a great threat and challenge for the whole nation in general, and our 88 percent Muslims in particular,” he writes.

“The Muslim Ummah owes great responsibility to safeguard the Muslims of Bangladesh against the plots, conspiracies and attacks of the Christians,” reads the closing paragraph of Saidul’s thesis. “We pray to Allah to give strength, courage and sagacity to the Muslim Ummah to counter the machination of Christian missionaries and their NGOs.”