Some government practices restricted religious freedom, such as placing limits on religious speech or failing to prevent or investigate fully acts of violence against religious minorities. Religious minority leaders complained that individuals affiliated with the ruling political party instigated violence against religious minorities for political purposes. The role of religion in the state played a considerable part in the political disagreements between the major parties, although the definition of Islam as the state religion has not been accompanied by any broad changes in the country’s legal framework.
Representatives of religious minorities complained that the government sometimes failed to prevent abuses by nongovernmental actors against them. They stated that police in some instances failed to arrest perpetrators of abuses and that the courts failed to administer justice effectively. Nineteen criminal cases were filed following December 2012 attacks against Buddhists in Ramu, Ukhia, and Teknaf. Police indicted 364 people in seven related cases and made 193 arrests, but the main investigation remained stalled. The local Buddhist youth who reportedly posted inflammatory internet material that sparked the violence remained missing and the investigation team could not record his statement. The youth’s family had no information about his whereabouts or well-being. NGOs, academic observers, and several journalists alleged that the ruling Awami League’s student wing, the Chhatro League, played a critical role in organizing the attacks against Buddhist religious sites in Ramu in 2012. Local civil society representatives stated that the top 10 culprits identified in the government’s post-Ramu inquiries remained free due to their political connections to the ruling party.
The government response to the December 2012 attacks, however, included 200 million taka ($2.5 million) in funding for the reconstruction of all 19 burned temples and monasteries by Border Guard Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Army’s Engineering Corps. The prime minister inaugurated the rebuilt structures in Ramu and Ukhia on September 3 and reaffirmed her party’s commitment to preserving security for the Buddhist community.
In November a mob assaulted a Hindu man and set fire to 26 homesteads in a predominantly Hindu village in Bonogram, Pabna. The police reportedly did not detain any of the perpetrators named by the victim, but did detain an individual who sheltered Hindus during the attack. The violence followed an accusation that a tenth grade Hindu student posted an insult about the Prophet Muhammad on a social networking site. Hundreds of people stormed the student’s house and, unable to find him, took his father to the town square, beat him, and set fire to homes. The local government’s initial investigation into the posting found no evidence that the student was involved. After the plaintiff filed a case against 300 people, police arrested nine. Local press blamed the attack on a local criminal gang with a history of extorting Hindu businessmen. Both major political parties – the Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) – said the gang was under the other’s protection.
There were also complaints that the police did not act promptly to contain the violence against Hindus that took place over a two-week period following the February 28 death sentence given to charismatic Islamic leader Delowar Hossain Sayedee. The Puja Committee of Dhaka’s main Dhakeshwari Temple reported there were 120 arrests in connection with the attacks there, but the police only transferred one officer (such transfers are a common form of administrative punishment). In the wake of the violence, the prime minister’s adviser for international affairs and the minister of industries visited affected areas on March 8 and 9, as did the national human rights commissioner. Authorities also provided temporary accommodation to those made homeless. Victims sought financial compensation for damages and asked law enforcement officials to strengthen their personal protection and file criminal charges against the attackers. The authorities arrested six supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami party on March 3 in Kotalipara, and four members of Islami Chhatra Shibir (Shibir), Jamaat’s student wing, on March 11 in connection with attacks in Banshkhali and Sitakundu.
The government continued to block internet sites and censor other media content it deemed offensive for religious reasons. In April the Dhaka police arrested bloggers for publishing posts “attack[ing] Islam and Hinduism” and seized their computers, modems, and external hard drives. The Bangladesh Telecommunications and Radio Commission announced April 4 it had removed most of the posts from two blog platforms (somewhereinblog.net and amarblog.com) for defaming Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. Bloggers Subrata Adhikari Shuvo, Russel Parvez, Mashiur Rahman Biplob, and Asif Mohiuddin were indicted in September for violating Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, which criminalizes the posting of inflammatory or derogatory information online against the state or individuals. The case was ongoing at year’s end.
Local authorities and communities often objected to efforts to convert persons from Islam. On September 14, local officials in Bilbathuagani, Tangail stopped the construction of a Christian office and meeting space after 25 local Muslims converted to Christianity. Reverend Mrinal Kanti Baroi reported the council chairman, Rafiqul Islam Faruk, summoned him to the local government offices and threatened to beat him if he did not revert to Islam. In response, Baroi reportedly cited the constitution’s protection of religious freedom to Faruk and society elders and appealed to higher authorities for assistance. The local government took no further action against the community, but eight of the 25 converts recanted. It is unclear whether this was due to coercion or other factors.
In August the Supreme Court deregistered the Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist political party, for violating the constitution, thereby banning it from participating in elections. The ban was not enforced in practice.
Despite the Supreme Court’s restrictions on issuing fatwas, village religious leaders sometimes made declarations they described as fatwas. Such declarations resulted in extrajudicial punishments, often against women, for perceived moral transgressions.
On June 13, government education officials reversed their May 29 transfer of a Hindu secondary school teacher to a public, all-Muslim high school in Dhaka. Government officials placed the teacher back in a Hindu-majority village after protests from students and alumni of the all-Muslim school.
In contrast to previous years, there were no reports of members of minority religious groups being disadvantaged in access to military or government jobs. Although public and private employees were not required to disclose their religious affiliation, it could generally be determined by a person’s name.
The government continued to post law enforcement personnel at religious festivals and events considered at risk of being targeted by 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 government support of this kind.