Attacks on minorities in Bangladesh a problem: US

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Dhaka, Sep 15 (UNI) The US has said while the Bangladesh government publicly supported freedom of religion and there was a traditional inter-community amity, ''attacks'' on religious and ethnic minorities continued to be a problem.

''Religion exerts a significant influence on politics, and the government is sensitive to the Islamic consciousness of its political allies and the majority of its citizens,'' the International Religious Freedom Report 2007 said in its Bangladesh chapter.

The report, released by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on September 14 said the citizens were generally free to practise 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 report noted that ''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''.

It cited reports of what is dubbed societal abuses and discrimination, based on religious belief or practice, during the period covered by this report.

''Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist minorities experienced discrimination and sometimes violence, while harassment of Ahmadis continued, along with protests demanding them to be declared non-Muslims,'' the report said.

It said the US government had discussed the religious freedom issues with the Bangladesh government, as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

In meetings with officials and in public statements, officers at the US Embassy encouraged the government to protect the rights of minorities.

''Publicly and privately, the Embassy denounced acts of religious intolerance and called on the government to ensure due process for all citizens,'' the report said.

It said religion exerted a powerful influence on politics, and the Government was sensitive to the Muslim consciousness of its political allies, the Jamaat Islami and the Islami Oikya Jote, as well as the majority of its citizens.

In December 2006, the report said, the Awami League led by detained ex-Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina upset many of its minority and liberal supporters, when it signed an electoral pact with the Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, a splinter Islamist group tied to violent Islamist militants.

''The agreement committed a future Awami League-led government to recognising some fatwas and an official declaration that the Prophet Mohammad is the last prophet, a direct challenge to the Ahmadiya community,'' it observed.

Ahmadis and liberal Bangladeshis criticised the agreement as politically expedient and inconsistent with core party principles.

It said, following this criticism and open rebellion among senior party leaders, the Awami League quietly allowed the agreement to lapse after imposition of the state of emergency that postponed the general elections slated for January 22.

The report said major religious festivals and holy days of the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian religious groups were celebrated as national holidays. The Bangladesh Christian Association lobbied unsuccessfully for the inclusion of Easter as a national holiday.

It appreciated that the government took steps to promote interfaith understanding. For example, government leaders issued statements on the eve of religious holidays, calling for peace, and warned that action would be taken against those attempting to disrupt the celebrations.

''Through additional security deployments and public statements, the Government promoted the peaceful celebration of Christian and Hindu festivals, including Durga Puja, Christmas, and Easter.'' The report said, ''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,'' the US report said.

However, the report noted that persons who practiced different religions often joined each other's festivals and celebrations such as weddings. Shi'a Muslims practiced their religious beliefs without interference from Sunnis.

Religious minorities were not underrepresented in the private sector. Some Hindus reported that Muslims tended to prefer hiring Hindus for some professional positions, such as doctors, lawyers, teachers and accountants.

UNI

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