There were media reports that the government instructed imams to limit their sermons to religious topics. The large majority of mosques, however, were independent of the state and, according to media and religious leaders, the government generally did not dictate sermon content or select or pay clergy. In state-approved mosques, including the national mosque, the government could appoint and remove imams, and therefore had indirect influence over sermon content. Religious community leaders said that imams at both types of mosques usually avoided sermons that contradicted government policy. There were government-run training academies for imams.
There were reports local authorities and communities, and sometimes the central government, restricted groups they perceived were trying to convert persons to other religions from Islam. In February the government froze the funds of the international NGO Compassion International after locals stated the NGO’s child-sponsorship centers were converting Muslim children to Christianity. In September a Supreme Court panel ordered the release of the NGO’s funds.
Religious minorities said de facto discrimination existed in the form of matriculation exam questions that drew from the majority religion. They also said, because of a lack of minority teachers for mandatory religious education classes, minority students sometimes could not enroll in religion classes of their faith. In these cases, school officials generally allowed for arrangements with local religious institutions, parents, or others to hold religious studies classes for such students outside of school hours and sometimes exempted the students from the religious education requirement.
Religious minority communities (who were often also ethnic minorities), especially Hindus, reported land ownership disputes that disproportionately displaced them. 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 sometimes enabled property appropriation for financial gain or shielded politically influential property appropriators from prosecution. Some human rights groups attributed the lack of resolution of these disputes to the ineffectiveness of the judicial and land registry systems and to the lack of political and financial clout of the targeted communities, rather than to government policy disfavoring religious or ethnic minorities. In August local authorities returned 14 Hindu families to their land in Barguna. Media reported a local politician and his accomplices had driven the families from their land over the preceding three years using attacks and intimidation.
The government again did not adjudicate any of the more than one million pending cases involving land seized from Hindus before the nation’s independence on grounds that the owners were enemies of the state. The cases have remained pending since a 2011 law allowed the prior owners of the land to appeal the seizures.
The government continued to provide law enforcement personnel at religious sites, festivals, and events considered targets for violence. The government also provided additional security at the Hindu festival of Durga Puja, Christmas, Easter, the Buddhist festival of Buddha Purnima, and the Bengali New Year or Pohela Boishakh.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs continued to administer the Islamic Foundation, which carried out activities in support of Islamic principles and values. The Islamic Foundation received 3.5 billion taka ($44.3 million) during the year from a line item in the government budget. The government also supported three trusts intended to benefit minority religious groups: the Hindu Welfare Trust (with assets of 205 million taka, $2.6 million), the Christian Religious Welfare Trust (assets of 50 million taka, $633,000), and the Buddhist Welfare Trust (assets of 70 million taka, $886,000). The three trusts are managed by trustees who are members of their respective religious communities and used interest from their assets to fund temple, church, and monastery development and repairs. In addition, the Hindu Welfare Trust received 50,000 taka ($633) from the government for payment of staff salaries. It also received 15 million taka ($191,000) from parliament from the revenue budget for temple development and a 10 million taka ($127,000) donation from the prime minister to celebrate puja. The Buddhist Welfare Trust received 50,000 taka ($633) from the government to celebrate puja. The Christian Religious Welfare Trust did not receive additional funds from the government. Minority religious leaders continued to state the government did not fund the trusts on an equal basis with the Islamic Foundation. They reported the foundation received yearly allocations of funds from the state budget, while the trusts had to rely on income generated from government contributions to their capital funds.
In January the government appointed the Supreme Court’s first Hindu chief justice.
In June the state news agency marked the anniversary of the 2001 bomb attack at the Catholic church of Baniarchar, which killed 10 people and injured more than 20, with an article decrying the lack of resolution in the criminal cases against the bombers.
In August former Information Technology and Communications Minister Latifur Siddique resigned his seat in parliament. He was arrested and his party expelled him in 2014 for public remarks he made in New York criticizing the Hajj and the Bishwa Ijtema (an annual national Muslim event). Siddique was released on bail in June; he faced charges of insulting the religious sentiment of Muslims.
The president hosted receptions to commemorate each of the principal Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian holidays.