Religious minority groups, including Christians, face “almost daily” human rights abuses in Bangladesh which authorities have “singularly failed” to protect them from, a new report claims.

The report, Under threat: The challenges facing religious minorities in Bangladesh, says that since 2013 religious minority groups have have been targeted in a series of violent incidents.

Bangladesh report

CALLS FOR CHANGE: The report, Under threat: The challenges facing religious minorities in Bangladesh, calls for greater protections for religious minorities in Bangladesh.

“Whether authored by domestic militant groups or by international armed extremist organisations such as Islamic State (IS), who have claimed responsibility for many of these incidents, the authorities have singularly failed to protect its Ahmadi, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Shi’a Muslim communities from these attacks, as well as regular incidents of communal violence."

Under threat: The challenges facing religious minorities in Bangladesh

“Whether authored by domestic militant groups or by international armed extremist organisations such as Islamic State (IS), who have claimed responsibility for many of these incidents, the authorities have singularly failed to protect its Ahmadi, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Shi’a Muslim communities from these attacks, as well as regular incidents of communal violence,” the report, released by UK-based Minority Rights Group International last week, says.

The report says the recent violence is the “latest chapter in a long history of discrimination” which has “sidelined Bangladesh's minorities as second-class citizens within their own country”. It says abuses inflicted upon religious minority groups – which range from forced abduction and sexual assault to land seizures and arson, “have occurred within a broader climate of impunity”.

It says better protection of minorities by law enforcement agencies and judicial authorities is "essential", noting that this is particularly important given that many previous abuses “appear to have been carried out with their involvement”. The report also calls for a “wider process of social transformation…to challenge stereotypes and champion respect for all beliefs”.

Carl Soderbergh, the organisation’s director of policy and communications, says the rising attacks and accompanying death toll “have highlighted how vulnerable minorities are to attacks, but their situation is also informed by wider structural issues within Bangladeshi society”.

Bangladesh is a majority Sunni Muslim nation with Hindus making up about 8.5 per cent of the population, Buddhist 0.6 per cent and Christians 0.3 per cent. Some indigenous people practice animism and other religious minority groups include Shia Muslims, members of the Ahmadi community and Sufi Muslims. The nation also has a growing number of atheists who, the report notes, have become increasingly vocal in recent years in expressing their beliefs despite the risks they face.

Overall, religious minorities represent just 9.6 per cent of the population today, down from 23.1 per cent in 1971, a contraction which it says has largely been due to mass migration among the Hindu population.

The report details cases of attacks against religious minorities in recent years including against Christians. It says that while the single worst incident perpetrated against Christians took place in June, 2001 – when a bomb was detonated in a Catholic church in the village of Gopalgank, “violence against Christians has continued, enabled in part by their marginalised position within Bangladeshi society”.

It notes that in some cases, the  attacks appear to have been driven by a desire for land, citing one Christian as saying “Christians are attacked for their land and property, and the attackers are backed by all political parties. They think Christians are a minuscule minority, weak and unable to protest and resist.”

Among attacks which are believed to have been motivated by a grab for land was one in July, 2014, when a convent in Dinajpur was attacked by more than 50 armed men whose crimes included robbery and rape. Clergy attributed the attack to a local land dispute.

“Christians are attacked for their land and property, and the attackers are backed by all political parties. They think Christians are a minuscule minority, weak and unable to protest and resist.”

- An unnamed Christian quoted in the report

The report also shows that Christians have been increasingly targeted by extremist groups including the outlawed Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh whom it is alleged sent death threats to priests late last year and tried to slit the throat of a pastor in Pabna.

While welcoming recent “gestures of support” for religious minorities such as that made by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in December, 2015 , to Christian leaders after a series of attacks against the community, the report notes “symbolic measures alone will not be sufficient to have a lasting impact on the lives of religious minorities, particularly as the discrimination against communities is driven not only by official discrimination by officials, lawmakers and security forces, but also by popular prejudice”.

It calls upon the Bangladesh Government to guarantee the security of religious minorities, to enforce legal protections and ensure justice to victims as well as greater efforts to promote the representation of religious minorities in parliament, security forces, judiciary and civil administration and to address the root causes of violence and discrimination against religious minorities.

Bangladesh has just one Christian MP, Jewel Areng, although it has been reported that last month a Catholic, Albert Costa, was elected to the position of president of the youth wing of country’s largest opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). And last week the UK Independent reported that a senior government minister, Dr Abdur Razzak, proposed that the country consider dropping Islamic as the national religion, claiming that Bangladeshi people have embraced a “force of secularism”.

Other recommendations made in the report include a call for the media in Bangladesh to provide adequate coverage of minority rights issues.

~ http://minorityrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/MRG_Rep_Ban_Oct16_ONLINE.pdf