BANGLADESH: CHRISTIANS SEEK JUSTICE IN CHURCH BOMB BLAST


Eight years later, villagers hope new government will revive investigation.

BANIARCHAR, Bangladesh, February 17 (Compass Direct News) – The 55-year-old mother of one of 10 people killed in a church bomb attack here is hoping the new government in Bangladesh will bring justice after an investigation waned under an Islamic-allied government.

Anna Halder, whose son Suman Halder was 23 at the time of the 2001 bomb attack, told Compass she wants to see justice within her lifetime.

“How long shall I wait to get the verdict on the killing of my son?” she said. “I want this government to investigate properly to find the real culprits. Or they should tell us that nothing will happen because we are poor and minority Christians.”

About 70 people were attending Sunday prayers at Baniarchar Catholic Church in Gopalganj district, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of the capital city of Dhaka, when the bomb went off. It also injured 20 people.

The left-leaning Awami League-led Grand Alliance, which won a landslide victory in elections last Dec. 29, does not include Islamic fundamentalist parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami. Prior to the election, the country was ruled for two years by an army-backed, caretaker government that imposed a countrywide state of emergency.

With the election of a new government, the chief priest of Baniarchar Catholic Church, Father Jacob Gobbi, said he has urged officials to revive the investigation that previously faltered.

“It is unfortunate that nobody is arrested so far, and there is no improvement of investigation in eight years – there is negligence on this case,” Fr. Gobbi said. “We want a proper investigation so that the perpetrators get punished, which will help heal the scars of the Christians.”

A completed investigation also would restore the dignity of Christians who became suspects, as police used the initial call for an investigation to detain and harass some Christians, he said.

“It was a trick to hide the real incident by suspecting Christians about the bombing in the church,” Fr. Gobbi said. “We want to know why there was an attack on our church.”

Father Domenico Piepanza, who was leading a service at that time of the blast, told Compass that police and successive governments were reluctant to pursue the investigation.

“It can be said that there is no reality of investigation,” Fr. Piepanza told Compass. “This negligence is a kind of persecution because we are minority Christians. It is sure that no Christian did that bombing.”

Fr. Gobbi said there was no conflict between local Christians and Muslims, implying that the bomb blast was the result of outside terrorists.

After the attack, then-Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed – ushered back into office last December – reportedly ordered an investigation into the incident, which took place near her hometown. But area Christians said they fear investigations of such attacks are done properly only when the victims are high-profile people.

Last Dec. 23 three Islamic extremists were sentenced to death for a 2004 grenade attack on former British High Commissioner Anwar Choudhury in Dhaka. The attack on the diplomat as he left a Bangladesh mosque injured him and killed two bystanders. Both the British and Bangladeshi governments, village Christians said, ensured a thorough investigation.

“In our case, there was no interest of the government, as those who were killed were very ordinary people of the society,” said Fr. Gobbi. “Proper investigations of many deadly bomb attacks by Islamic extremists have taken place – why not in our case?”

 

Discrimination by Hindus

People from other minority religions in Bangladesh also are said to discriminate against Christians. In Maotia village in Khulna district, about 360 kilometers (224 miles) south of Dhaka, Hindus recently cremated the body of pastor according to Hindu custom against the wishes of the deceased, his family and their denomination.

Bimol Biswas, 45, died of liver cirrhosis on Dec. 7, 2008. His wife and son wanted to bury him according to Christian ritual, but his two Hindu brothers and local Hindu neighbors forcefully cremated him according to Hindu ritual.

The chairman of the Nazarene Mission, Sukomol Biswas, told Compass that denominational representatives had tried to persuade the villagers and his brothers to allow the pastor to be buried according to his last wishes.

“It was extremely upsetting that we could not bury a Christian after his death,” Biswas said. “We tried to bury him in a Christian way, but we failed. They were so adamant to cremate him that we could not manage them. We cannot fight with the villagers for burial.”

Biswas, who had converted from Hinduism 18 years ago, worked with the Bangladesh Bible Society for eight years and later worked as a pastor in a Nazarene church in Dhaka. His wife worked with the same mission.

“His brothers, other family members and the Hindu villagers did not accept his conversion to Christianity,” said Biswas.

Capt. Mohanondo Baroi of the Salvation Army of Khulna region said the pastor was a close friend.

“Bimol Biswas told me about one week before his death that, ‘If I die, please bury me following the Christian rituals,’” Baroi said. “He came to Khulna from Dhaka six months before his death. Several times he told me to bury him following the Christian rituals.”

The pastor’s Hindu brothers also dispossessed his wife and son of their inheritance due to their conversion to Christianity, Baroi added.

Hinduism is the second largest religious affiliation in Bangladesh, accounting for 9.2 percent of 153.5 million people. Muslims make up nearly 90 percent of the population, and Buddhists and Christians less than 1 percent.  

Report from Compass Direct News

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