Christians Languish In Bangladeshi Jail
Arrested for crossing border, their government leaves them locked up.
3/21/08 INDIA (Compass Direct News) – A group of Christians from India are languishing in a Bangladeshi prison even after finishing a three-month jail term for unknowingly overstepping an unmarked border between the two countries as they proclaimed Christ, authorities said.
Bangladeshi authorities say officials from India have failed to respond to requests to undertake the proper protocol for their release.
Police and jail officials said joint forces led by the army detained the 14 evangelists five months ago as they unknowingly trekked inside Bangladeshi territory near the Roma area of Bandarban hill district, some 272 kilometers (169 miles) southeast of the capital.
Ranging in age from 20 to 32, the evangelists – including four women and a 51-year-old man – were arrested at a point where mountains obscure the border where India’s Mizoram province and Bangladesh’s Bandarban district meet.
The Christians were sentenced to three months of prison by a Bandarban district court on charges of border trespass, said Inspector General of Prison Brig. Gen. Zakir Hasan.
“Their jail term was finished on February 28,” Hasan said. “We applied to our home ministry on February 9 about their repatriation to India.”
Normally Bangladesh’s home ministry informs the foreign ministry, and the foreign ministry deals with the concerned embassy or high commission about the repatriation of the foreign nationals who are imprisoned in foreign jails, said Hasan.
“But so far, we did not get any information about their repatriation,” said Hasan. “If their [India’s] high commission does not take any initiative about their repatriation, they will be in jail sine die [indefinitely].”
Bangladesh is “very much willing” to send the evangelists back to their country, Hassan said, but is proscribed from doing so without action from India’s high commission.
“If we release them without their high commission’s initiative, they will be caught again in Bangladeshi territory for not having any valid documents and passports,” Hasan said. “They will be put in jail for another crime.”
Roma neighborhood Sub-Inspector Babar Ali said Bangladeshi border patrols arrested the 14 evangelists on November 27 of last year, handed them over to local police the next day, and the Christians appeared in court on November 29.
“Those Christian people were actually preaching Christianity in that mountainous terrain,” said Ali. “They could not understand the demarcation line of the border between India and Bangladesh. In actual fact, there is no demarcation line of border there.”
Ali said the Christians had no illegal purpose for entering the country.
“Rather, they entered mistakenly while preaching their religion in predominantly tribal locality,” he said. “We investigated whether they were engaged in any illegal or criminal activities in Bangladeshi territory, but our investigation has drawn a blank. We did not find them involved in any criminal activities.”
Investigators found only Christian literature on them, Ali added.
India and Bangladesh share a 2,545-mile (4,095-kilometer) border that is largely unfenced. There are 111 Indian enclaves (locally known as Chits) in Bangladesh territory covering 17,258.24 acres, and there are 51 Bangladesh enclaves in Indian territory measuring 7,083.72 acres.