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«BANGLADESH 2014 INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT Executive Summary The constitution designates Islam as the state religion, but states the ...»

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BANGLADESH 2014 INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

REPORT

Executive Summary

The constitution designates Islam as the state religion, but states the nation is a

secular state that “shall ensure equal status and equal rights in the practice of the

Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and other religions.” It affirms secularism is based on

the elimination of: granting any religion political status; abuse of religion for any purpose; and “discrimination against, or persecution of, persons practicing a particular religion.” Government officials, including police, were sometimes slow to protect individuals, including members of minority religious groups, from violence and often reluctant to investigate violent incidents. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) stated the government failed to prevent attacks on Hindus after the January 5 election, and the High Court ruled that law enforcement agencies had “seriously fail[ed]” to protect members of vulnerable groups, including religious minority communities, from post-election violence. The government took steps to assist victims and restore religious and private property damaged in the violence. In May police reportedly refused to investigate the case of a 12-year-old Hindu girl who was forcibly converted to Islam. Government officials stated that resource and capacity constraints sometimes limited their ability to take proactive efforts to extend greater religious freedom protections or to counter societal actors.

Minority groups, especially Hindus, were victims of attacks and looting of religious sites and private homes, particularly in the period surrounding the January national election. According to human rights organizations, violence against members of minority religious groups often included additional factors and could not be attributed solely to religious affiliation. According to religious minority leaders, individuals affiliated with political parties, ruling and opposition alike, sometimes instigated violence against members of religious minorities for political purposes. For example, suspects arrested for the gang rape of two Hindu women said they acted in retaliation for how the women’s community voted in the January 5 parliamentary elections. In a separate case, a mob attacked Hindus in Malopara village after Hindus voted despite intimidation. Members of minority religious groups from lower economic strata said they were further disadvantaged due to their inability to afford personal security or to motivate officials to provide security against harassment or violence.

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BANGLADESH

In meetings with officials and in public statements, the U.S. Ambassador and U.S.

embassy officials expressed strong concern over acts of religious intolerance and encouraged the government to continue to uphold the rights of minority religious groups. The embassy publicly condemned attacks in January against indigenous Mandi Christians and in April against Hindus in Comilla, and called on the government to act authoritatively against those responsible. The Ambassador and embassy staff met with local government officials, civil society members, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and local religious leaders to underscore the importance of religious tolerance and to urge the return to religious minorities of land confiscated decades earlier.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 166.3 million (July 2014 estimate). According to the 2011 census, Sunni Muslims constitute 90 percent and Hindus make up 9.5 percent of the total population (about 95 percent of the religious minority population). The remainder of the population is predominantly Christian (mostly Roman Catholic) and Theravada-Hinayana Buddhist. There also are small numbers of Shia Muslims, Bahais, animists, and Ahmadiyya Muslims.

Estimates vary from a few thousand to 100,000 adherents in each group. Ethnic and religious minority groups often overlap, and are concentrated in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and northern districts. Buddhists are predominantly found among the indigenous (non-Bengali) populations of the CHT. Bengali and ethnic minority Christians live in communities across the country, with relatively high concentrations in Barisal City, Gournadi in Barisal district, Baniarchar in Gopalganj, Monipuripara and Christianpara in Dhaka, Nagori in Gazipur, and Khulna City.

The largest noncitizen population, the Rohingya, practices Islam. There are approximately 32,000 registered Rohingya refugees from Burma and between 200,000 and 500,000 unregistered Rohingya from Burma practicing Islam in the southeast around Cox’s Bazar.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework According to the constitution, “the state religion of the Republic is Islam, but the State shall ensure equal status and equal right in the practice of the Hindu,

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The constitution limits freedom of association in instances where an association is formed for the purposes of destroying religious, social, or communal harmony among the citizens. The law also limits freedom of association for the purposes of creating discrimination among citizens on the ground of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, or language; for the purposes of organizing terrorist acts or militant activities against the state or the citizens or any other country; or when the association’s formation and objects are inconsistent with the Constitution.





Under the penal code, statements or acts made with a “deliberate and malicious” intent to insult religious sentiments are subject to fines or up to two years in prison.

The criminal code allows the government to “confiscate all copies of a newspaper if it publishes anything that creates enmity and hatred among the citizens or denigrates religious beliefs.” Islamic law may play a role in civil matters pertaining to the Muslim community.

Alternative dispute resolution is available to individuals for settling family arguments and other civil matters not related to land ownership; with the consent of both parties, arbitrators rely on principles found in Islamic law for their decisions. There is no formal implementation of Islamic law, however, and it may not be imposed on non-Muslims.

A Supreme Court Appellate Division ruling allows the use of fatwas only to settle religious matters; fatwas may not be invoked to justify meting out punishment, nor may they supersede existing secular law.

Family law has separate provisions for Muslims, Hindus, and Christians. Family laws concerning marriage, divorce, and adoption differ depending on the religious beliefs of the people involved. Muslim and Hindu family laws are codified in the legal system. A Muslim man may marry as many as four wives, although he must obtain the written consent of his previous wife or wives before marrying an additional woman. A Christian man may marry only one woman. Under Hindu law, there are limited provisions for divorce, such as impotence, torture, or madness, and Hindu widows can legally remarry. The family law of the religion of

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Under the Muslim family ordinance, females inherit less than males, and wives have fewer divorce rights than husbands. The law provides some protection for women against arbitrary divorce and polygamy without the consent of the first wife, but the protection generally applies only to registered marriages.

Unregistered marriages are by definition undocumented and difficult to prove.

Under the law, a Muslim husband is required to pay his former wife alimony for three months, but authorities do not always enforce this requirement.

The Vested Property Act (VPA), which until 1974 was known as the Enemy Property Act (EPA) since its enactment following the India-Pakistan War prior to Bangladeshi independence, allows the government to deprive a citizen of his/her property by declaring that individual an enemy of the state. Since 2011, the Vested Property Return Act enables the potential return of property seized from the country's Hindu minority under the VPA or EPA.

All NGOs, including religious organizations, must register with the government’s NGO Affairs Bureau if they receive foreign financial assistance for social development projects. NGOs that do not receive foreign money must register with the Ministry of Social Welfare.

Religious studies are compulsory and part of the curriculum in all government schools. Students attend classes in which their own religious beliefs are taught.

Schools with few students from minority religious groups are generally allowed to make arrangements with local churches or temples to hold religious studies classes outside of school hours.

The jail code makes allowances for the observance of religious festivals by prisoners, including access to extra food for feast days or permission for religious fasting.

Government Practices International Religious Freedom Report for 2014 United States Department of State • Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor 5 BANGLADESH Incidents occurred in which the government placed limits on religious speech or failed to prevent or investigate acts of violence against religious minorities.

According to religious minority leaders, individuals affiliated with both the ruling and opposition parties instigated violence against religious minorities for political purposes. Government officials stated that resource and capacity constraints sometimes limited the government’s ability to make proactive efforts to extend greater religious freedom protections or to counter societal actors. Representatives of religious minorities stated that the government sometimes failed to prevent abuses by non-governmental actors, police in some instances failed to enforce the law appropriately, and the courts failed to administer justice effectively.

Following many incidents of societal violence against religious minorities, particularly Hindus, surrounding the national elections in January, the High Court directed the government “to take immediate steps to protect life, liberty, property and dignity of the citizens, by deploying forces not only to the specified districts and communities, [but] all over the country wherever the citizens of the country, especially those who are either minority, or are identified as a vulnerable group.” The court further ordered the inspector general of police to submit a report within seven days outlining measures taken to protect minorities and arrest perpetrators of such violence. In the submitted report, the government detailed 36 criminal cases and 139 arrests of religious minorities. The NHRC also condemned electionrelated violence against minorities, and urged authorities to arrest those responsible. One newspaper reported that the NHRC chairman called attacks in Kornai village – where at least 150 Hindu homes and shops were burned – “a crime against humanity.” Local inhabitants reported that in May a group of Muslim men in Lalmonirhat abducted, forcibly converted, illegally married, and raped a 12-year-old Hindu girl.

A Hindu community leader stated police refused to investigate the incident and pressured the victim’s family to drop the case. He stated another girl was abducted from her village in a similar manner in April. A journalist said the girl was being held by her abductors in Dhaka, but police refused to intervene.

On October 13, under intense public pressure, the government dismissed Information Technology and Communications Minister Latifur Siddique for his public remarks in New York criticizing the Hajj and the Bishwa Ijtema (an annual Bangladeshi Muslim event, which is the world’s second-largest religious gathering). The ruling party expelled Siddique for his comments. Following a legal petition by a Bangladeshi citizen, a court issued warrants for his arrest.

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Human rights organizations report isolated incidents where authorities arrested religious minorities at the urging of societal actors. In November police in Lalmonirhat district arrested about 30 people, including two pastors, who met with Muslims for what some believed was a conversion. A group of about 200 Muslims gathered in a fashion the Christians perceived as threatening. Police intervened before a conflict developed, and everyone arrested was later released.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling limiting fatwas to religious matters, and contrary to Islamic tradition limiting declaration authority to religious scholars with expertise in Islamic law, village religious leaders sometimes made declarations they described as fatwas. The media reported instances where such declarations resulted in extrajudicial punishments, sometimes against women, such as lashings, ostracizing, and hair-cutting for perceived moral transgressions.

Minority communities – including ones associated with minority religions – reported many land ownership disputes that disproportionately displaced minorities, especially Hindus. Religious associations said such disputes often occurred in areas near new roads or industrial development zones, where land prices had recently increased. They also stated local police, civil authorities, and political leaders were occasionally involved or shielded politically influential property appropriators (land grabbers) from prosecution. Human rights groups attributed a lack of resolution of these disputes to the ineffectiveness of the judicial and land registry systems, and not to government policy or pattern disfavoring religious or ethnic minorities.

Local authorities and communities often objected to efforts, real or rumored, to convert persons from Islam. In February the NGO Affairs Bureau ordered the closure of 64 offices of international NGO Compassion International after local leaders reported the child sponsorship centers were converting Muslim children to Christianity. The government allowed the centers to reopen in July.

One conservative Muslim charity said government suspicion of a political agenda resulted in surveillance of its attempts to build schools in slums, and that the government barred some individuals from praying in “mainstream” mosques.

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