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Bangladesh: Government Fails to Act Against Religious Violence

Attacks on Minority Ahmadis Continue Amidst Censorship and Pogroms

(Dhaka) - The Bangladesh government has aligned itself with extremist groups that foment violence against the minority Ahmadiyya community, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 45-page report, "Breach of Faith: Persecution of the Ahmadiyya Community in Bangladesh," documents the campaign of violence, harassment and intimidation unleashed by the Khatme Nabuwat (KN)--an umbrella group of Sunni Muslim extremists--against the Ahmadiyya community. The KN and other extremist groups have attacked Ahmadiyya mosques, beaten and killed some Ahmadis, and prevented access to schools and sources of livelihood for others. They have demanded an official declaration that Ahmadis are not Muslims and a ban on all Ahmadi writings and missionary activities.

Founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Ahmadiyya community is a religious group that identifies itself as Muslim. It differs with other Muslims over the exact definition of Prophet Mohammad being the "final" monotheist prophet.

Under the Bangladesh National Party-led government, discrimination and violence against the Ahmadis has intensified. The report documents the government's failure to prosecute those responsible for anti-Ahmadi violence. It condemns the January ban on all Ammadiyya publications imposed by the government.

The Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islamic Okye Jyote, junior coalition partners in the government, do not recognize the Ahmadis as Muslims and have been involved in fomenting religious violence against them and other religious minorities.

"It's a dangerous moment in Bangladesh when the government becomes complicit in religious violence," said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division. "The authorities have emboldened extremists by failing to prosecute those engaged in anti-Ahmadi violence and by banning Ahmadiyya publications."

Bangladesh's High Court has temporarily suspended the ban on Ahmadiyya publications and the government argues that the ban was put into place to appease extremists and thereby protect Ahmadis. But anti-Ahmadi violence and agitation has continued. These include massive anti-Ahmadi rallies, threats against members of the group, attacks on mosques, the refusal in some places to allow Ahmadi children to go to school, and the confiscation of Ahmadiyya publications.

Human Rights Watch said that given the alarmingly high levels of communal violence in Bangladesh directed against other minorities, including Hindus and indigenous peoples, further government concessions to extremist religious demands would set a dangerous precedent and, could unleash an uncontrollable wave of violence.

For doctrinal reasons, many Muslims consider the Ahmadiyya to be non-Muslims. They become easy targets in times of religious and political insecurity. For those pursuing populist political goals, such as Islamist and conservative parties in Bangladesh, raising the bogey of Ahmadi subversion and persecuting them, ostensibly in order to preserve the faith, has provided a fast track to political power.

Ahmadis fear that institutionalized discrimination and violence will become the norm if, as demanded by the Islamic Okye Jyote, they are officially declared to be non-Muslims.

"Political parties that engage in religious incitement have no place in government," said Adams. "The Bangladesh National Party needs to make it clear to its coalition partners that they must end all support for anti-Ahmadiyya activities or leave the government."

Human Rights Watch urged the international community to press the Bangladesh government to prosecute those responsible for planning and executing attacks against the Ahmadiyya and other minorities, to rescind the ban on Ahmadiyya publications, and take steps to encourage religious tolerance within Bangladeshi society.

To monitor the immediate implementation of these measures, the Bangladesh government should immediately provide the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, Asma Jahangir, firm dates to visit the country on terms consistent with her mandate.

Human Rights Watch said that the ongoing official persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan provides a chilling precedent. Since 2000, an estimated 325 Ahmadis have been formally charged in criminal cases, including blasphemy, for professing their religion in Pakistan. As a result, thousands of Ahmadis have fled Pakistan to seek asylum abroad.

"Unless the Bangladesh government acts to allow Ahmadis to practice their faith in peace, the situation could spiral out of control," said Adams. "Continued failure to act will confirm the growing impression that Bangladesh's ruling coalition is more religiously intolerant than any government since the country's founding."

Accounts from "Breach of Faith: Persecution of the Ahmadiyya Community in Bangladesh"

They started hitting us with bamboo sticks. The beat us and beat us. We tried to escape but it was not possible. Shah Alam was being beaten particularly harshly by Aminur Rahman and Shahid. They continued hitting us with the bamboo sticks, particularly on the head. I could see that Shah Alam was getting badly injured. They beat his brain out of his head. I could see it. We asked them to stop as we could see Shah Alam was dying and had to be taken to hospital. But they did not. The entire incident lasted about thirty minutes. That is all I remember clearly. My memory has suffered as a result of what happened.

-Interview with Abul Bashar, an Ahmadi villager, August 25, 2004.

Early in the morning, after the Fajr (dawn) prayers, a mob from the village surrounded my house, dragged me out, and tied me to a tree. Then they started beating me with sticks and rods. Then they carried me to the local market and beat me more, this time even more badly. Just when I thought I was going to die, local policemen came to the spot and took me to another house and then the policemen asked me to leave the Ahmadiyya faith. When I refused, the policemen started beating me. Then they took me to the police station and put me in the lock-up where they handcuffed me and beat me again. The next morning, at about 11 o'clock, the policemen took me to the district headquarters of the police and beat me again. Maulana Abdul Rajjak and others came to check what was going on. The Officer in-Charge informed them within earshot of me that they should not worry, the police would "deal" with me "properly." The police said that it was clever of the village people to register a robbery case against me and that they would use that as an excuse to beat a Qadiani.

-Interview with Mohammad Mominul Islam alias Raqeeb, August 24, 2004.

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