There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom. In general, government institutions and the courts protected religious freedom.
In contrast to previous years, there were no instances of missionaries reporting monitoring of their activities by intelligence agencies.
There were no financial penalties imposed based on religious beliefs; however, some religious minorities reported they were disadvantaged in access to military and government jobs, including elected office. Anecdotal evidence suggested the government appointed more religious minorities at all levels of government during the year. In the cabinet, five of 46 ministers were non-Muslim, including two Buddhists, two Hindus, and a Christian. The government appointed numerous members of minority communities to the higher ranks of government. However, no official statistics existed to determine to what extent the proportion corresponded with their proportion in the population. Selection boards for government services often lacked minority representation. Although employees were not required to disclose their religious affiliation, it could generally be determined by a person’s name.
Since 2001, the government routinely posted law enforcement personnel at religious festivals and events that were at risk of being targets for extremists.
Through additional security deployments and public statements, the government promoted the peaceful celebration of Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, and secular Bengali festivals. Durga Puja, Christmas, Easter, Buddha Purnima and Pohela Boisakh (Bengali New Year) all received these kinds of government support.
The government helped support the Council for Interfaith Harmony-Bangladesh, an organization created in 2005 with a mandate to promote understanding and peaceful coexistence among different communities. This initiative came in response to a bombing campaign in the fall of 2005 by an extremist group that sought the imposition of Sharia. The council is the only organization with representation from all of the main religious groups in the country. The council met regularly at the central and division levels and began programs aimed at HIV/AIDS prevention.
Many Hindus have been unable to recover landholdings lost because of discrimination under the defunct Vested Property Act. Although an Awami League government repealed the act in 2001, the succeeding government did not take any concrete action to reverse the property seizures that occurred under the act. The Vested Property Act was an East Pakistan-era law that allowed the government to expropriate “enemy” (in practice, Hindu) lands. Under the law the government seized approximately 2.6 million acres of land, affecting almost all Hindus in the country. According to a study conducted by a Dhaka University professor, nearly 200,000 Hindu families lost approximately 40,667 acres of land since 2001, despite the annulment of the act the same year.
In April 2001 parliament passed the Vested Property Return Act, stipulating that land remaining under government control seized under the Vested Property Act should be returned to its original owners, provided the original owners or their heirs remained resident citizens. The law required the government to prepare a list of vested property holdings by October 2001. Claimants were to file claims within 90 days of the publication date. In 2002 parliament passed an amendment to the act that allowed the government unlimited time to return the vested properties and gave control of the properties, including leasing rights, to local government employees. At year’s end, the government had not yet prepared a list of such properties.
The government continued to block Facebook pages it deemed offensive for religious reasons.
The constitution provides for the right to promulgate the religion of one’s choice, but local authorities and communities often objected to efforts to convert persons from Islam.
The government operated training academies for imams (Islamic clergy) and proclaimed Islamic festival days, but generally did not dictate sermon content or select or pay clergy. However, the government had the authority to appoint or remove imams and exercised some indirect influence over sermon content in government mosques, including the national mosque, Baitul Mukarram. The government monitored the content of religious education in madrassahs and announced its intention to make changes to the madrassah curriculum, including modernizing and mainstreaming the content of religious education.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs administered four funds for religious and cultural activities: the Islamic Foundation, the Hindu Welfare Trust, the Christian Religious Welfare Trust, and the Buddhist Welfare Trust. The Christian community had rejected government involvement in its religious affairs since the passing of the Religious Welfare Trust Ordinance of 1983, but during the year they opted to accept government funding and received 40 million taka ($49,000). The Hindu Welfare Trust received 180 million taka ($2,169,000) from the government in the fiscal year ending in June. Many of those funds were dedicated to temple-based literacy and religious programs. Of that money, 150 million taka ($1,807,000) was specifically allocated for religious worship and festivals. In addition the trust money aided in repairing temples, improving cremation pyres, and helping destitute Hindu families afford medical treatment.
The Buddhist Welfare Trust received 50 million taka ($61,000) from the government in the fiscal year ending in June. The trust used funds to repair monasteries, organize training programs for Buddhist monks, and celebrate the Buddhist festival Purnima.
During Ramadan, local police in Brahmanbaria District banned the local Ahmadi community from playing the call to prayer over loudspeakers.
In February local government officials in the Gazipur District cancelled the Ahmadi community’s annual convention, citing a booking conflict. The Ahmadi community alleged several anti-Ahmadi officials were behind the cancellation.