|Barnabas Aid provides food parcels for needy Christians in Bangladesh|
Believers in Bangladesh have been afforded greater religious freedom than their Christian brothers and sisters in most other Muslim-majority contexts. But last year an intensifying Islamist campaign began to threaten the position of the country’s Christians.
Violent protests by Islamists erupted in February 2013 following trials of Islamist leaders relating to war crimes connected with the 1971 War of Independence. The protestors demanded that Bangladesh become an Islamic state, and massive rallies were staged calling for the introduction of “blasphemy laws”. Similar legislation in Pakistan causes much suffering amongst the Christian community.
Anti-Christian violence by Islamists emboldened by the protests followed; Christian homes were torched and churches threatened. On 6 June, a mob of around 60 Islamic extremists raided a predominantly Christian village before moving on to a nearby seminary, where they battered down the doors and severely beat the rector and a number of students.
Although the secular government continued to affirm the country’s secular character and commitment to religious freedom, Islamists also made significant political gains in 2013. Mayoral elections in five cities were won by the opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), with support from Islamists. The BNP was expected to go on to win the general election of 5 January 2014, but they boycotted the poll, resulting in a hollow landslide victory for the sitting Awami League. Voting was marred by controversy and violence; a Christian man was killed, his village having previously been torched by Islamists to punish Christians for taking part in the election.
Christians have a low social status in Bangladesh, where they make up just 1% of a population that is 90% Muslim, and so they are easy targets for attack by Islamic extremists. Several (including some evangelists) have been martyred in recent years. They wield little political power, and police can sometimes be slow to assist them. They may also experience discrimination in education and employment, and as a result, many Christian families are very poor.