Bangladeshi Christians Targets of Social and Religious Persecution
A Special Report by ICC
04/21/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Despite Bangladesh being a relatively tolerant Islamic nation, the poverty-stricken Christians in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are facing persecution from their communities, neighbors, families and human traffickers.
On Jan. 2, police rescued 16 Christian children from Muslim traffickers in Dhaka. But recently 11 of those children, from the Rangamati district of Chittagong Hill Tracts, have gone missing again. Most likely, they have been re-trafficked into madrasas, Islamic training centers, where they will be forced to convert to Islam under strict supervision.
After being missing for months, the children were rescued. But the traffickers threatened the vulnerable Christian parents, tempting them with the promise of a better life for their children, who were clueless about the traffickers’ motives. As one parent told ICC, “We were not aware that our child would be taken to a madrassa.”
“The Tripura Christians are very poor and cannot afford to bring a case against the traffickers. They are also scared to do this. If the parents do not bring a case, the police are powerless,” said an ICC source. “The traffickers do not get punishment from the courts. Because he has no fear of punishment, he will continue to traffic the children.”
Since July 2012, more than 150 children have been rescued from similar situations. Parents have not been able to level charges against known traffickers, amongst whom are Norbert Tripura and Binoy Tripura (no relation), due to lack of funding and fear of reprisals. No arrests have been made to date, according to ICC and Charisma News.
Human trafficking is a long-standing problem in the country, with nearly 13 women and children trafficked from Bangladesh every day. Christians in the CHT region are targeted for trafficking because of their vulnerable position as a minority religious group that is neck deep in poverty.
On Feb. 8, Ekramul, a Muslim background believer, was walking back to his home when more than a hundred Muslims blocked his path. They demanded an explanation for his absence in the mosque for the Friday prayer. When he confessed his faith in Christ, they began to beat him. When his wife tried to intervene, the mob attacked her as well, leaving them both injured on the road. Then they broke into his house and stole his rickshaw, the only source of income for the family. They were forced to flee and seek refuge in a neighboring village, according to Open Doors.
The majority of discrimination against Bangladeshi Christians comes from Muslims who threaten Christians, deny them access to public water wells, beat them, extort money from them, or destroy their rickshaws to eliminate their only source of income, according to the Voice of the Martyrs. Christians in the CHT have also reportedly faced persecution from Buddhist extremists, who do not allow them to enter Buddhist villages, buy or sell food, or use bridges, ferries or roads, according to Aid to the Church in Need. These extremists, who have links to armed rebels of the United Peoples Democratic Front, have tried to stop Christians praying or reading the Bible.
Muslims and Buddhists who convert to Christianity are faced with severe opposition from their communities in Bangladesh, “…where women who have converted to Christianity are abducted, beaten, raped, and forced to marry and reconvert to Islam,” says Jim Jacobson, President of Christian Freedom International.
In early 2013, after a Bangladeshi Imam turned to Christ abroad and returned home, he was welcomed by threats and violence. Members of his community beat him almost to death. After almost two months in hospital, he is back at home. But the same Muslims who followed him and held him in high esteem when he was their imam now cannot accept his new “status,” according to Asia News.
Bangladesh does not follow sharia law and guarantees religious freedom making the country one of the few Islamic nations where conversion is possible with some degree of tolerance. However, the social dominance of Islam is so strong that new Christians face persecution from their families, neighbors and communities, often being ostracized and beaten out of the region, fleeing their homes for their lives.
Despite occupying only 9 percent of the total territory of the country and being inhabited by 1 percent of the total population, around one-third of the Bangladesh army is deployed in the CHT. There are around 400 army, paramilitary and police camps in the area, according to International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), owing to the 25-year civil war led against the government from 1976 to 1997 by the armed wing of the indigenous political party, the PCJSS, as a response to violations of the region’s autonomy.
Political unrest, dissatisfaction with government, lack of laws to protect minorities, distrust between communities, extreme poverty, conflicts over land and human rights violations by the occupying military, mark the deplorable living conditions of Christians in the CHT.
Bangladesh remains responsible to resolve a long-standing political problem in the CHT that is complicated by unchecked Christian persecution, rampant human trafficking, absolute poverty that breeds horrendous crimes and a weak judicial system that is unable to charge and convict known criminals. As things stand, Christians in the CHT persevere through their trials with hope, despite remaining vulnerable to all manner of social persecution and victimization, simply for choosing to follow Christ.