Bangladesh: Ahmadiyyas (Qadianis) Under Attack: Violating the Right to Freedom of Religion

In the last few months, the Ahmadiyya (Qadiani) community in Bangladesh has been subjected to repeated assaults on its mosques in several places and on individual members of the community.
The two most recent events occurred in Dhaka, the capital city, on November 21 and December 5, 2003, when large mobs of thousands were instigated by Moulana Mahmudul Hasan Momtaji, Coordinator of the Khatme Nabuwat Movement and Moulana Azizul Huq of the Islami Oikkyo Jote, to attack an Ahmadiya mosque in Nakhalpara. In previous incidents, mobs carrying banners in the name of "Khatme Nabuwat Movement Coordination Committee" have attacked mosques in Jessore, Kushtia, Jheniadah and Jamalpur.

In a hate demonstration on December 5, the anti-Ahmadiyya zealots, mainly under the banner of Khatme Nabuwat Movement and an organisation called "Jaish-e-Mustafa," announced a one-week ultimatum for the government to declare Ahmadiyas as non-Muslims. They also threatened to either burn down or take over the Ahmadiyya mosque and vowed to bring the country to a standstill if their demands are not met. On 29 November 2003, Moulana Azizul Huq, Chairman of the faction of the Islamic Oikyo Jote (IOJ), a coalition partner of the present Government, met Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and urged her to declare the Ahmadiyyas as non-Muslims. The press reported that the Prime Minister assured Moulana Huq that she would "look into the matter." This comment itself points to appeasement and gives more than tacit encouragement for the use of violence.
Religious Intolerance

The increasing level of religious intolerance instigated by extremists and the corresponding indulgence of the Government, is a matter of grave concern. The lenience of the Government has resulted in a situation where religious fanatics terrorise communities they disapprove of, threaten violence and destruction if they are not appeased, and spew fanaticism and hatred with impunity. Acts of arson, the demolition of religious institutions, and instigation to violence have breached the right to freedom of religion guaranteed under the Constitution. They should have given the Government sufficient cause to enforce the law and act to prevent further attacks. Instead the law enforcement agencies have delayed in arresting the perpetrators, and the government has failed to act decisively . This has led to apprehensions that the government is unwilling to act against the leaders of the Islami Oikkyo Jote (IOJ), who are coalition partners. The Government has thus allowed itself to play into the hands of organised terror groups. Moreover, the ominous silence of the main Opposition has created a major threat to peace and stability in Bangladesh.

Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), as a human rights organisation based in Bangladesh which advocates in favour of access to justice of all marginalised groups, strongly condemns the attacks on the Ahmadiyyas as well as the demand to declare them as non-Muslims. This move can only lead to violence and anarchy and will be a gross violation of the right to freedom of religion.

The Government's Duties

We call upon the Government of Bangladesh to take immediate steps to prevent this incitement to sectarian violence. The Government's present indifference to the plight of religious minorities and marginalised communities exposes these communities to extreme vulnerability and insecurity. Moreover, there is fear that such communal intolerance in Bangladesh will impact negatively on the whole South Asian region as well.

We are reassured to read in the press (9th December, 2003, Daily Star) that the State Minister for Religious Affairs, Mr. Mosharef Hossain Shajahan rejected the demand for declaring the Ahmadiyyas non-Muslims by saying, "None less than Allah can do it ... as the Minister concerned, I have no power nor am I entitled to do so." We also commend the State Minister for his fortitude in pointing out that, "Now they (anti-Ahmadiyya group) are demanding it ... once the demand is met, they will want to capture a mosque, then a church ..." We take great hope in the State Minister's comments and would like to be reassured that his comments are representative of the stand of the Government of Bangladesh in favour of religious freedom of all citizens.