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Volume 11 Number 4
New Delhi, Winter 2004

Bangladesh Burns
Zafar Sobhan
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.

However, police 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.

Police arrived 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.

Ex-President Dr. 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.

More distressingly, 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.


CHRI Newsletter, Winter 2004

Editors: Vaishali Mishra & Clare Doube, CHRI;
Design: Print: Anshu Tejpal, Electronic: Jyoti Bhargava, CHRI; Web Developer: Swayam Mohanty, CHRI.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to all contributors

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The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) is an independent international NGO mandated to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the Commonwealth.