Rising tensions in Bangladesh: Archbishop of Dhaka concerned about current situation

At the background of the recent conflicts and violent situations created by the polarized position taken by the Government and the Opposition on the issue of Parliamentary election to be held on January 5, and following the execution of one of the leading members of the Jamaat-e-Islami opposition party in Bangladesh, the Archbishop of Dhaka, Patrick D'Rozario, called on his compatriots and Christians throughout the world to pray for peace and reconciliation in Bangladesh as well as in this southeast Asian country.

“The situation is very tense. For months we have been experiencing strikes, blockades, violent conflict, terrorist attacks, arson and hatred here in Bangladesh. There have been deaths and hundreds of people have been injured. The most recent events have further exacerbated the situation. That is why I am asking all Christians in the country and elsewhere to pray for peace and reconciliation in Bangladesh," Archbishop D’Rozario explained to the international Catholic pastoral charity "Aid to the Church in Need."

On Thursday, December 12th, Abdul Quader Molla of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which is considered to be Islamist, was executed. The 65 year old had been found guilty of being involved in war crimes during the 1971 war of independence, when Bangladesh was formed from East Pakistan. According to the prosecution, indigenous forces together with the Pakistani army killed around three million people and raped 200,000 women at that time. According to the information given, most of the victims were Hindus and Awami League party workers and their supporters. Appeals against the death sentence had been rejected previously by the country's Supreme Court. After the sentence had been carried out there was unrest in a number of cities. At the criminal court there are further proceedings pending against members of Jamaat-e-Islami in connection with war crimes. The special court responsible for handling cases of atrocities committed during the war of independence was set up in 2010 by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed. The opposition rejected the institution of the court outright.

Archbishop D’Rozario is following the recent developments with great concern. In this situation, he says, Catholics have a special duty to perform, and that is Prayer and Penance: "Our prayers are not in vain. Bangladesh needs dialogue and I cherish the hope that it will succeed! In Bangladesh all Christians, regardless of their denomination, feel solidarity with their compatriots of other faiths. Our charitable and social initiatives serve the country, education and development, the poor and those who are particularly affected by climate change. This means that we are trying to live our faith and the values we advocate."

Between the present governing party of the Awami League (AL) under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) under the former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia there have been profound tensions for decades and these are paralyzing the country where the population is predominantly Muslims. The BNP receives support from and patronizes the religiously oriented Jamaat-e-Islami, which is legally banned as party to take part in the elections. Both are endeavouring to fight against the Secular AL Government.  Because of the persistent tensions a number of parties, including the main opposition BNP and its allies, intend to boycott the parliamentary elections scheduled for 5 January 2014.

In Bangladesh Islam is the state religion according to the constitution, but religious freedom is guaranteed. About 88 per cent of the almost 143 million Bangladeshis are Muslims, including ten per cent Shiites. About nine per cent of the population are Hindus;  the Buddhists, people of traditional religions and Christians, including about 320,000 Catholics, that is 0.3%, account for three percent of the total population.


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