Religious Persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
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Home U.S. Department of State Annual Report (IRF) 2006: Bangladesh
Int’l Religious Freedom Report - 2006: Bangladesh

Excerpts from
U.S. Department of State
International Religious Freedom Report 2006 : Bangladesh
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
September 15, 2006

The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but provides for the right to profess, practice, or propagate—subject to law, public order, and morality—the religion of one’s choice. It also states that every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain, and manage its religious institutions. While the Government publicly supported freedom of religion, attacks on religious and ethnic minorities continued to be a problem. Protests demanding that Ahmadis be declared non-Muslims and instances of harassment continued sporadically, but the Government generally acted in an effective manner to protect Ahmadis and their property and refused to give in to any of the protesters’ demands. Religion exerted a powerful influence on politics, and the Government was sensitive to the Islamic consciousness of its political allies and the majority of its citizens. [Para # 1]

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. Citizens were generally free to practice the religion of their choice; however, government officials, including the police, were often ineffective in upholding law and order and were sometimes slow to assist religious minority victims of harassment and violence. The Government and many civil society leaders stated that violence against religious minorities normally had political or economic motivations and could not be attributed only to religion. [Para # 2]

The generally amicable relationships among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom; however, Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist minorities experienced discrimination and sometimes violence by the Muslim majority. Harassment of Ahmadis continued along with protests demanding that Ahmadis be declared non-Muslims. [Para # 3]

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. … Publicly and privately, the embassy denounced acts of religious intolerance and called on the Government to ensure due process for all citizens. … The U.S. government sponsored the visit of a prominent U.S. Muslim cleric who spoke to audiences about Qur’anic interpretations that support tolerance and gender equity. In February 2006, U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley of New York visited places of worship belonging to several faiths and met with representatives of religious minorities to demonstrate support for religious diversity and tolerance. [Para # 5]

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 55,126 square miles, and its population was 146 million. Sunni Muslims constituted 88 percent of the population. Approximately 10 percent of the population was Hindu. The remainder was mainly Christian (mostly Roman Catholic) and Theravada-Hinayana Buddhist. Ethnic and religious minority communities often overlapped and were concentrated in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and northern regions. Buddhists were found predominantly among the indigenous (non-Bengali) populations of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Bengali and ethnic minority Christians could be found in many communities across the country; in cities such as Barisal City, Gournadi (Barisal), Baniarchar in Gopalganj, Monipuripara in Dhaka, Christianpara in Mohakhali (Dhaka), Nagori in Gazipur. There also were small populations of Shi’a Muslims, Sikhs, Baha’is, animists, and Ahmadis. Estimates of their numbers varied from a few thousand to 100 thousand adherents for each faith. There was no indigenous Jewish community, nor a significant immigrant Jewish population in the country. There were no synagogues or other Jewish institutions. [Para # 6]

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but provides for the right to practice, profess, and propagate—subject to law, public order, and morality—the religion of one’s choice. While the Government publicly supports freedom of religion, attacks on religious and ethnic minorities continued to be a problem. [Para # 9]

While the right to propagate the religion of ones’ choice is guaranteed by the constitution, local authorities and communities often objected to efforts to convert persons from Islam. Strong social resistance to conversion from Islam means that most missionary efforts by Christian groups were aimed at serving communities that have been Christian for several generations or longer. In 2006, a group of recent Christian converts from Buddhism built a church in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Buddhist members of the community, angry at the conversion and at the use of a disputed piece of land, set fire to the church. Investigation into the case continued. [Para # 10]

Religion exerted a powerful influence on politics, and the Government was sensitive to the Muslim consciousness of its political allies, Jamaat Islami and the Islami Okiyya Jote, as well as the majority of its citizens. [Para # 16]

The Government supported the creation of the Council for Interfaith Harmony-Bangladesh, with a mandate to promote understanding and peaceful coexistence. This initiative came in response to a bombing campaign in the fall of 2005 by an Islamist extremist group seeking the imposition of Shari’a law. [Para # 22]

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Since 2004, anti-Ahmadiyya extremists have publicly demanded that the Government declare Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. The International Khatme Nabuwat Movement Bangladesh (IKNMB) and a splinter group, the Khatme Nabuwat Andolon Bangladesh (KNAB), first announced a January 2004 deadline, and in December 2005, again issued an ultimatum and threatened violent protests at Ahmadiyya mosques. The Government rejected the ultimatum and successfully kept protesters a safe distance from all Ahmadiyya buildings. On December 24, 2005, the Daily Star reported that State Minister for Religious Affairs, Mosharef Hossain Shajahan stated “There may be difference of opinion among the followers of a religion, but no one can attack others for such a difference.” In June 2006, the KNAB announced a weeklong program including dawn to dusk hartals (strikes) near Dhaka and a shutdown of the airport to force the Government to declare Prophet Muhammad as the last prophet in the ongoing parliament session as a primary step in declaring Ahmadis non-Muslims. Using minimal force, police prevented the protests from approaching the Ahmadiya facilities, and the KNAB’s hartal program failed to materialize. The Ahmadiya community complimented the Government for its responsiveness to their concerns and its professional handling of the protests. [Para # 23]

On January 8, 2004, the Government announced a ban on all Ahmadiyya publications. The ban was not formalized, but in 2004, police detained a boy for three days for possession of Ahmadiyya books, and during demonstrations in April and May 2004, police entered two Ahmadiyya mosques and seized documents. In December 2004 the Government prepared a statement banning Ahmadiyya publications but did not release it. After local human rights activists and Ahmadiyya leaders challenged this statement, the high court stayed the ban, making it unenforceable until the court ruled on it. The Government opposed court challenges to the ban on the grounds the ban had not been promulgated officially and was, therefore, beyond judicial scrutiny. With a few exceptions, police respected the high court’s order. [Para # 25]

Improvement and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

The Government continued not to enforce the ban on Ahmadiyya publications. Furthermore, protesters were generally stopped from hanging signs outside of Ahmadiyya mosques declaring them nonmosques or threatening the lives or property of Ahmadis. This contrasted sharply from previous years, when police sometimes facilitated the hanging of such signs. [Para # 40]

Section III. Societal Attitudes

…… Religious minorities were vulnerable due to their relatively limited influence with political elites. Like many citizens, they were often reluctant to seek recourse from a corrupt and ineffective criminal justice system. Police were often ineffective in upholding law and order and were sometimes slow to assist religious minorities. This promotes an atmosphere of impunity for acts of violence against them. [Para # 41]

There were approximately 100 thousand Ahmadis concentrated in Dhaka and several other locales. While mainstream Muslims rejected some of the Ahmadiyya teachings, the majority supported Ahmadis right to practice without fear or persecution. However, Ahmadis continued to be subject to harassment and violence from those who denounced their teachings. [Para # 58]

In the latter part of 2003, Ahmadis were the targets of attacks and harassment prompted by clerics and leaders of the Islami Okiyya Jote. In October 2003, seventeen Ahmadiyya families in Kushtia were barricaded in their homes for several days. In November 2003, police stopped a mob of approximately 5 thousand attempting to destroy an Ahmadiyya mosque in Tejgaon, Dhaka. In December 2003, anti-Ahmadi activists killed a prominent Ahmadi in Jessore. There were no results from the subsequent police investigations in any of these cases. [Para # 59]

Throughout 2004, the police provided minimal protection to Ahmadiyya communities facing harassment. In April 2004, twelve Ahmadiyya houses were destroyed and fifteen Ahmadis in Rangpur reportedly were held against their will and pressed to renounce their faith. In May 2004, Khatme Nabuwat Andolon Bangladesh reportedly threatened to evict thousands of Ahmadis from their homes and destroy their mosques in Patuakhali, Rangpur, and Chittagong. In October 2004, an anti-Ahmadi mob injured eleven Ahmadis in an attempt to seize a mosque. No legal action was taken against these alleged assailants. The situation continued through the beginning of 2005. [Para # 60]

In March 2005, a mob attempted to lay siege to a mosque in the town of Bogra, hoping to remove the “Ahmadi Mosque” sign. Police controlled the mob but removed the sign. After a few hours, police put the sign back up. In April 2005, there was a spate of IKNMB attacks on Ahmadis, including one in the Shatkira District where protesters injured more than fifty persons after hanging a new sign on an Ahmadi mosque. [Para # 61]

On July 18, 2005, extremists allegedly vandalized the construction site of an Ahmadiyya mosque in the Uttara section of Dhaka. The police promptly intervened. [Para # 62]

In December 2005, IKNMB and KNAB again issued an ultimatum that the Government declare Ahmadis non-Muslims. When the Government refused, the groups staged a protest near the Dhaka Ahmadiyya complex, but police successfully kept the protesters away from the Ahmadis and their property. Approximately fifty protesters and seven police officers were injured. [Para # 63]

In January 2006, villagers in Shahbazpur protested when Ahmadis in their community attempted to bury an Ahmadi woman who died of old age in the Muslim cemetery. Police and local leaders intervened but ultimately gave into the villagers’ demands. Local government leaders gave a small plot of publicly owned land to the Ahmadis to use for the burial. [Para # 64]

In June 2006, the KNAB again issued demands that the Government declare Ahmadis non-Muslims and on June 23, 2006, approximately 1,500 to 2,000 marchers attempted to seize an Ahmadiyya mosque near Dhaka. In response, police quickly deployed approximately 3 thousand police to prevent violence and prevent the protest from approaching the Ahmadiyya complex. KNAB supporters then attempted to block access to Dhaka-Zia International Airport but were stopped by the police. Some ten to twenty persons were injured as a result. Following the KNAB’s failure to seize the mosque, the group announced a dawn-to-dusk hartal and added the demand that parliament pass a law declaring Prophet Muhammad as the last Prophet; however, the hartal threat never materialized. [Para # 65]

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with officials at all levels of the Government as well as with political party leaders and representatives of religious and minority communities. During the period covered by this report, the embassy emphasized the importance of free and fair elections in early 2007, with a goal of averting the violence religious minorities experienced in 2001. Embassy staff traveled to regions of the country where violence was worst in 2001 and met with civil society members, NGO leaders, members of parliament, and other citizens to discuss concerns about violence during the next election and to encourage law enforcement to take proactive measures to protect the rights of minorities. [Para # 66]

Embassy and visiting U.S. government officials regularly visited members of minority communities to hear their concerns and demonstrate support. During his February 2006 visit, U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley of New York visited Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and Ahmadiyya houses of worship, to discuss religious freedom concerns and support the minority communities. He also discussed the importance of an election free from communal violence. [Para # 67]

The embassy encouraged the Government through the Ministry for Religious Affairs to develop and expand its training program for Islamic religious leaders. After an initial pilot program, the U.S. government provided, among other topics, course work for religious leaders on human rights and gender equality. The U.S. government sponsored the visit of a prominent Muslim cleric from Georgetown University to talk to Bangladeshi audiences. He spoke to both small roundtables and to thousands at Friday prayers at the national mosque about Qur’anic interpretations that support tolerance and gender equity. [Para # 70]

During the reporting period, the U.S. government continued to make religious freedom, especially the problems facing the Ahmadiyya community, a point of discussion in meetings with government officials. Embassy officers continued to visit the Ahmadiyya headquarters in Dhaka to show support for their security and religious freedom. [Para # 71]

The embassy continued to encourage Jamaat Islami to reiterate publicly its position that it supports tolerance and minority rights in the context of an attack on a religious minority member. Democracy and governance projects supported by the United States included tolerance and minority rights components. [Para # 72]

Related : See Bangladesh Section.
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