Washington, D.C.(May 15, 2013) - Decrying a steep rise in atrocities against religious minorities, an international religious freedom coalition of 23 organizations and individuals led by the Hindu American Foundation urged the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee to host a Congressional hearing on the ongoing persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh.
According to the Coalition, large-scale anti-minority violence, widespread restrictions on religious freedom, and the growing influence and power of radical Islamist groups, such as Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and Hefazat-e-Islam, have resulted in a rapidly deteriorating situation for religious minorities in Bangladesh.
"It's critical that Congress, and specifically the House Foreign Affairs Committee, holds a hearing to examine the growing threat that Islamic extremist groups, including Jamaat-e-Islami, pose to vulnerable religious minorities as well as to Bangladesh's internal security and regional stability," said Jay Kansara, HAF's Associate Director of Government Relations. "A hearing will further allow the Committee to determine how to appropriately address escalating violence and rampant human rights violations in Bangladesh, which serves as an important trade partner and is vital to American geopolitical interests in the region."
In recent months, minorities have been systematically targeted by supporters of JeI and its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir, in violent attacks across the country. Hindu villages, in particular, have been attacked with more than 47 temples destroyed and approximately 700 homes vandalized or burned to the ground since late January.
The latest violence followed the convictions of three JeI leaders by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) for committing "crimes against humanity" during Bangladesh's 1971 War of Independence from Pakistan. A fourth JeI leader, Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, was convicted by the ICT earlier this month and sentenced to death for engaging in widespread killings, rape, torture, and kidnapping during the 1971 War.
The government and security forces have allegedly been slow and ineffective in responding to the JeI sponsored violence, and Hindus and other minorities remain vulnerable to further attacks, especially with additional war crimes trials scheduled over the next few months.
Extremist groups have also increasingly agitated for a 13-point Islamist agenda, including the imposition of anti-blasphemy regulations, oaths to Allah in the constitution, and prohibitions on the public fraternization of men and women. On April 6, for instance, hundreds of thousands of protesters led by Hefazat descended on the capital, Dhaka, to demand anti-blasphemy laws and to call for the prosecution and execution of "atheist bloggers" whose writings allegedly insult Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.
In response to Islamist demands, the government reportedly blocked approximately a dozen websites and arrested at least four bloggers for hurting the religious sentiments of the country's Muslim population.
"The mounting religious intolerance exhibited by both Islamist groups and the government is extremely concerning," said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF's Director and Senior Fellow for Human Rights. "Instead of clamping down on extremists, the ruling government is placating Islamist sentiments by repressing free speech and restricting minority rights."