New Delhi, 18 Jan 2008
In the military-controlled Bangladesh, the religious persecution is growing bigger and subtler every day. It is not to say that persecution of the minorities did not exist earlier. It very much existed. But then, the emergency was imposed a year ago, on 11 January 2007, to deal with fundamentalism and corruption.
I. Arrest of Buddhist monk
On 14 January 2008, a Buddhist monk Rev Arya Joti Bhikkhu, chief priest of Sarnath Arannyo Kuthir (Buddhist temple) in Karallyachari under Khagrachari district, CHTs of Bangladesh was arrested by the police. The arrest was made based on a fabricated complaint filed an illegal Muslim settler on 11 January 2008 which accused about 500 indigenous peoples including Rev Aryo Joti Bhikkhu of illegal gathering, theft and destruction to private property.
The complaint was referring to uplift works which the indigenous Buddhist villagers were doing in the Buddhist temple. The illegal Muslim settlers have been claiming the temple land as theirs.
Rev. Aryo Joti Bhikkhu was produced before the Khagrachari district court and released on bail on 15 January 2008.
II. Restrictions on religious affairs
Religious persecution is in nothing new in Bangladesh. The arrest of Rev. Arya Joti Bhikkhu, chief priest of Sarnath Arannyo Kuthir, is only a sequence in the Bangladesh government’s anti-minority policies.
In the context of the arrest of Rev. Arya Joti Bhikkhu it is important to note that the district officials had been preventing any uplift work in the Buddhist temple since November 2007. Army personnel have been deployed around the temple since 3 January 2008. The government also banned a religious event scheduled for 25th January 2008 at the Buddhist temple.
Earlier, on 12 September 2007, Khagrachari district authorities banned “construction of new Mosque, Hindu temple and Buddhist temple” in Mahalchari sub-division within the district without prior permission of the authorities concerned. The order is not targeted against the Muslims or Hindus but against indigenous Buddhists.
III. Illegal land grabbing
The arrest of the Buddhist monk and indigenous jummas is part of the wider conspiracy to grab the lands of the indigenous peoples in the CHTs. Now, the illegal plain setters have laid their claim on the 18 acre land of the Sarnath Arannyo Kuthir Buddhist temple in Karallyachari under Khagrachari district. In another similar development, since 13 August 2007, the illegal settlers have been trying to grab the land of the Buddhist temple at Sadhana Tila under the Dighinala Police Station in Khagrachari district of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The army was directly involved in the attacks on the indigenous peoples and Buddhist monks at Sadhana Tila.
The Kagrachari district has been one of the worst affected districts in the CHTs from the onslaught of the illegal settlers and the army. Since March 2007, a total of 399.22 acres of land belonging to 133 Jumma individuals and a primary school in 14 villages under four Unions of Mahalchari police station and Khagrachari Sadar police station under Kagrachari district have been reportedly illegally and forcibly grabbed by the illegal plain settlers. This was revealed by Dhaka-based human rights group, the Hill Watch Human Rights Forum after conducting a fact-finding investigation in November 2007.