Incidents occurred in which the government placed limits on religious speech or failed to prevent or investigate acts of violence against religious minorities. According to religious minority leaders, individuals affiliated with both the ruling and opposition parties instigated violence against religious minorities for political purposes. Government officials stated that resource and capacity constraints sometimes limited the government’s ability to make proactive efforts to extend greater religious freedom protections or to counter societal actors. Representatives of religious minorities stated that the government sometimes failed to prevent abuses by non-governmental actors, police in some instances failed to enforce the law appropriately, and the courts failed to administer justice effectively.
Following many incidents of societal violence against religious minorities, particularly Hindus, surrounding the national elections in January, the High Court directed the government “to take immediate steps to protect life, liberty, property and dignity of the citizens, by deploying forces not only to the specified districts and communities, [but] all over the country wherever the citizens of the country, especially those who are either minority, or are identified as a vulnerable group.” The court further ordered the inspector general of police to submit a report within seven days outlining measures taken to protect minorities and arrest perpetrators of such violence. In the submitted report, the government detailed 36 criminal cases and 139 arrests of religious minorities. The NHRC also condemned election-related violence against minorities, and urged authorities to arrest those responsible. One newspaper reported that the NHRC chairman called attacks in Kornai village – where at least 150 Hindu homes and shops were burned – “a crime against humanity.”
Local inhabitants reported that in May a group of Muslim men in Lalmonirhat abducted, forcibly converted, illegally married, and raped a 12-year-old Hindu girl. A Hindu community leader stated police refused to investigate the incident and pressured the victim’s family to drop the case. He stated another girl was abducted from her village in a similar manner in April. A journalist said the girl was being held by her abductors in Dhaka, but police refused to intervene.
On October 13, under intense public pressure, the government dismissed Information Technology and Communications Minister Latifur Siddique for his public remarks in New York criticizing the Hajj and the Bishwa Ijtema (an annual Bangladeshi Muslim event, which is the world’s second-largest religious gathering). The ruling party expelled Siddique for his comments. Following a legal petition by a Bangladeshi citizen, a court issued warrants for his arrest. Islamist political parties called a nationwide strike over the failure to arrest Siddique by the parties’ deadline. After he returned and surrendered himself to the court in late November, Siddique was held without bail while awaiting trial on charges of hurting religious sentiment.
Human rights organizations report isolated incidents where authorities arrested religious minorities at the urging of societal actors. In November police in Lalmonirhat district arrested about 30 people, including two pastors, who met with Muslims for what some believed was a conversion. A group of about 200 Muslims gathered in a fashion the Christians perceived as threatening. Police intervened before a conflict developed, and everyone arrested was later released.
Despite the Supreme Court ruling limiting fatwas to religious matters, and contrary to Islamic tradition limiting declaration authority to religious scholars with expertise in Islamic law, village religious leaders sometimes made declarations they described as fatwas. The media reported instances where such declarations resulted in extrajudicial punishments, sometimes against women, such as lashings, ostracizing, and hair-cutting for perceived moral transgressions.
Minority communities – including ones associated with minority religions – reported many land ownership disputes that disproportionately displaced minorities, especially Hindus. Religious associations said such disputes often occurred in areas near new roads or industrial development zones, where land prices had recently increased. They also stated local police, civil authorities, and political leaders were occasionally involved or shielded politically influential property appropriators (land grabbers) from prosecution. Human rights groups attributed a lack of resolution of these disputes to the ineffectiveness of the judicial and land registry systems, and not to government policy or pattern disfavoring religious or ethnic minorities.
Local authorities and communities often objected to efforts, real or rumored, to convert persons from Islam. In February the NGO Affairs Bureau ordered the closure of 64 offices of international NGO Compassion International after local leaders reported the child sponsorship centers were converting Muslim children to Christianity. The government allowed the centers to reopen in July.
One conservative Muslim charity said government suspicion of a political agenda resulted in surveillance of its attempts to build schools in slums, and that the government barred some individuals from praying in “mainstream” mosques.
In June some 200 individuals, including Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, held a rally in Dhaka to express solidarity with victims of the 2001 bomb attack at the Catholic Church of Baniarchar, which killed 10 people and injured more than 20. Participants in the rally appealed to authorities to investigate the attacks and bring the perpetrators to trial. The Christian Religious Welfare Trust (CRWT) reported that the anniversary of the attack was observed annually, and that protestors did not face any restrictions holding rallies. CRWT stated that the investigation officer of the case had changed several times. There were no reports of progress in this case at year’s end. Observers said court cases in the country often took more than a decade to resolve irrespective of subject matter or religious identity.
The government operated training academies for imams, but generally did not dictate sermon content or select or pay clergy in most mosques. In state-approved mosques, including the national mosque, the government had the authority to appoint or remove imams, and therefore had indirect influence over sermon content. Imams generally focused on religious issues like prayers, fasting, alms, and the Hajj, and according to sources avoided sermons that contradicted government policy.
The government continued to post law enforcement personnel to maintain peace at religious festivals and events considered at risk of being targeted by extremists. The Hindu festival of Durga Puja, Christmas, Easter, the Buddhist festival of Buddha Purnima, and the Bengali New Year or Pohela Boishakh all received additional government security deployments of this kind.
The government did not adjudicate any of the more than one million cases pending from its decades-old seizure of approximately 2.6 million acres of land from Hindus under the VPA. Despite the passage of the Vested Property Return Act in 2011, no property has been returned to date.
The government continued to censor media content it deemed offensive for religious reasons. Authorities banned the June issue of the journal Anannya because of an article by a teacher at the Sylhet Government Women’s College, which some officials considered insulting to a Hindu goddess.
The president hosted receptions to commemorate each of the principal Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian holidays. 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. These religious trusts funded literacy and religious programs, festivals, religious building repair, and aid to destitute families.
The Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association reported 21 fatwas, including four for extra-marital affairs, four for other sexual relationships, and two due to rapes.