Bangladesh at 50: promised religious freedom is ‘slipping away’

After 50 years of Independence (26th March), promises of ‘religious freedom for all’ are being eroded by Islamic extremism and a lack of will to protect minorities. The warning came from Brother Ahmed a partner worker with the Christian persecution charity Open Doors.

“Persecution is on the rise in our nation and our Government don’t seem to willing or able to confront it,”

says Brother Ahmed. 

“They are being pressurised by extreme Islamic groups and they don’t want to stand up to them for fear of being portrayed as ‘unIslamic.’”

When Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) declared independence on 26 March 1971 the constitution promised that,

“every citizen has the right to profess, practice or propagate any religion.” In 2018, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared “Bangladesh takes particular pride in religious freedom and communal harmony in the region”.

However, Open Doors’ World Watch Report, which measures persecution of Christians across the world shows a significant increase in persecution for the nations estimated 903,000 Christians (approximately 0.5% of the population). The country has risen 17 places in the ranking in just two years, to 31.

The rise in persecution and discrimination has been fed by three factors:

• Widespread attacks on homes and places of worship by Islamic extremists. 

• Violent attacks on Christian Rohingya refugees who have faced violent attacks by radical Islamic groups in the refugee camps.

• An increase in discrimination and intolerance against converts.

Christians who convert from another religion – usually Islam – suffer the most severe persecution. Often, they must worship in secret, for fear of attack*.

“When Christian communities report attacks or persecution, local police sometimes respond as late as 24 hours later. The will to protect religious minorities is very low.”

Along with the rise in Islamic extremism, Christian freedoms have been further eroded by, amongst other things, the Digital Security Act which feature provisions to criminalize blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed online, and an inability of the government to challenge abuses against Christians by local law enforcement.

Meanwhile Open Doors has received repeated reports of Bangladeshi Christians refused emergency aid during Covid-19 lockdown and left with nothing to eat**.

“The PM has told hard-liners that ‘Anyone who pronounces offensive comments against the Prophet Muhammad, will be prosecuted.’ Pandering to such sentiments is a deadly game to play; it’s time the Government refused to compromise with extremism.”

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