Assistant Editor, The Daily Star, Bangladesh
Human rights news
from Bangladesh continues to be discouraging. On the 29th of October
2004, a 1000-man mob armed with axes, machetes, sticks, and clubs,
and led by Imams of two local mosques, stormed the Ahmadiyya mosque
in the provincial town of Brahmanbaria, beating up worshippers
and all but demolishing the bamboo and tin structure.
The mob then went
on a rampage, robbing and vandalising houses of the community
and injuring a dozen or so, including women. Of the injured, Shabju
Mia, 52, president of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jammat Bhadughar chapter
and Imam of the mosque, is in a critical condition. During the
attack, hundreds of orthodox fanatics were standing around the
mosque chanting anti - Ahmadiyya slogans.
The Ahmadiyyas, who number 100,000 in Bangladesh, do not believe
Mohammed was necessarily the last prophet. Some 25,000 of them
live in the eastern district of Brahmanbaria, where Ahamadiat
was first preached in 1912, before any other place in Bangladesh.
This is merely
the latest in a long line of incidents that have made the lives
of the Ahmadiyyas in Bangladesh increasingly insecure. The government
and civil society organisations had successfully thwarted a planned
attack on an Ahmadiyya mosque in Dhaka in September 2004, which
goes to show that when it makes the effort, the government can
protect the community.
inaction in Brahmanbaria seems to indicate that the government's
efforts to safeguard the community's freedom of religion are not
very extensive. Witnesses said local leader of the ruling party
Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and former ward commissioner Abdul
Quddus led the raiders who dispersed the Ahmadiyya men guarding
the entrance hitting them with clubs and sticks.
at the spot one hour after the incident but did not record any
case. But they sat in discussion with the local elite, the influential
and the leaders of anti-Ahmadiyya groups and asked them to stop
recurrence of such violence.
Badruddoza Chowdhury and ex-Foreign Minister Dr. Kamal Hossain
have initiated a 'listening tour' of the country in furtherance
of putting together a "people's manifesto for change."
However, the tour has been dogged by ruling party goons who have
broken up the last two of the town hall meetings held in the cities
of Rangpur and Mymensingh.
The Rapid Action
Battalion continues to extra-judicially execute alleged criminals
and gangsters in "encounter shootings." The number of
those killed either in custody or crossfire in the past few months
has now exceeded three dozen, with no let up in sight.
Recently, on 28
October 2004, a protest against intruders in the female hostel
at Rajshahi University was violently put down by the police and
members of the student wing of the ruling alliance. The incident
left over 200 injured.
It appears that
the government in most cases is the principal abuser of human
rights, either through its student wings or the Rapid Action Battalion.
Simple government edicts such as the mass arrest of September
which saw several thousand people arbitrarily arrested and thrown
behind bars in what the government claimed to be a normal anti-crime
drive, but which most saw as an attempt to pre-empt the threatened
grand rally of opposition parties called for 3 October 2004 is
such a case.
the abuses catalogued above have met with widespread indifference
among the media and the general population, who appear resigned
to such abuses. This certainly doesn't augur well for the future
of human rights in Bangladesh.