Two Bangladeshi pastors were released on bail November 24 after having been arrested and nearly mobbed by about 200 Muslims who converged on a Christian meeting they were leading in north Bangladesh.
Around noon on November 9, in a village in the northern district of Lalmonirhat, locals Muslims were outraged to discover that the pastors were holding a meeting to educate Muslims about their Christian faith and to conduct a baptism. Police intervened, arresting the 45 people in attendance, before the 200-strong mob could cause any harm. Everyone was released by 10pm, except for the two pastors.
Local imams filed charges against the two men, accusing them of igniting the sentiments of Muslims and tempting them to convert.
Though the secular South Asian nation’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, Christians frequently experience discrimination and persecution fuelled by extremist groups demanding the establishment of Islamic law; 98% of Bangladeshi citizens are Muslim.
The pastors’ names are being withheld for their protection. Both were raised Muslim, but later converted to Christianity. One has been identified as a visiting minister and the other is known to lead a church of 30 people within the denomination of the Faith Bible Church of God. Both are married, and one has two young daughters.
“Most of the police and administration here [in Bangladesh] are Muslim,” said a Bangladeshi church leader who spoke on condition of ananymity. “This is a secular country, but in practice we don’t see that very much. Everyone has the right to preach and practice and choose their own religion. The police and administration know that, and yet this is going on,” he told World Watch Monitor.
The court denied the initial request for bail, because Islamic leaders were reportedly pressuring local authorities to keep the men in custody. “The fundamentalists were very angry,” the church leader told World Watch Monitor. “So they thought if they grant bail, it would be a problem.”
In a court hearing on November 16, the pastors’ lawyer appealed the decision to not post bail, and the request was granted on November 18. The men are now awaiting trial to defend themselves against the charges filed by the imams. Bangladesh has no anti-conversion bill so the church leader said he hopes the charges will be dropped quickly. “Our lawyer said this case will not be difficult because of our constitutional rights.”
The church leader also confirmed that the attack did not take place on the premisis of the Faith Bible Church of God, and that the congregation and its pastor have never previously been targeted.
On November 2, a senior member of Bangladesh’s main Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami was sentenced to death for war crimes committed in 1971. The death sentence of Mir Quasem Ali, 62, is the latest verdict in a series of cases charging the group’s leaders with various atrocities.
The verdicts have triggered protests in Bangladesh. A human rights observer in the region, who also asked to remain anonymous for security, told WWM she believes the recent incident in Lalmonirhat was somewhat connected to the death sentencing of members of Jamaat-e-Islami. She said the mob attack may have been in reaction to the verdicts.
In February, a church in Lalmonirhat belonging to the same denomination was seriously vandalized and damaged, according to online Bangladeshi news source The Daily Star. According to the World Watch List, “Imams and local influential Muslims are in the frontline to persecute Christian believers, especially converts.”
Father, we pray for Your watchful care over these two pastors, and yet we give thanks for their temporary release on bail. We pray for their lawyers to have wisdom and insight. We pray for the judges in this case; that they would rule with true justice. We also pray for the work of Your church in Lalmonirhat; that the power of the gospel will be proclaimed and that many will turn to You in saving faith and repentance. In the name of Jesus, who is establishing His Church in Bangladesh, Amen.