Thursday, May 03, 2007

Bangladesh among other undemocratic watch list failing on religious freedom

SALEEM SAMAD

THE United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in 2007 report has included Bangladesh for the third consecutive year, along with seven other countries in the Watch List for appalling religious freedom situation.

The Commission’s Watch List includes Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, and Nigeria and recommends to monitor those countries due to nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged or tolerated by the governments.

Launching of the religious freedom report at Washington on Wednesday, April 2 has expressed concern that the predators and perpetrators of repression and persecution have not been punished and the victims never received justice.

In October, the Commission held a public forum at Washington on the scheduled 2007 elections in Bangladesh and on promoting democracy and protecting rights in a Muslim-majority country.

The commission was also pressing for free and fair elections in Bangladesh and ensure the religious minorities vote without fear and intimidation.

Recommendation was made after the Commission’s visit to Bangladesh during February-March 2006. The Commission heard concerns that members of religious minority communities might be excluded from the voters lists, intimidated from voting, or targeted by anti-minority violence such as had followed the last national election in October 2001.

Bangladesh recently experienced major political and constitutional crisis, the resolution of which will determine whether religious freedom and other human rights will be protected by the rule of law or the country will continue on a downward spiral toward authoritarianism and intolerance.

In January 2007, a state of emergency was declared, normal political activities banned, and previously scheduled national elections indefinitely postponed. Recent deviations from democratic norms and reports of serious human rights abuses raise troubling questions about the future prospects for respect for a range of freedoms, including potentially freedom of religion or belief.

The Commission placed Bangladesh on its Watch List in 2005 due to a number of concerns about increasing Islamist radicalism and violence and the threatening conditions for and discrimination against religious minorities, specially Hindus, Christians, and Ahmadiyyas.

The failure to investigate and hold perpetrators to justice for violence and persecution against members of religious minorities. Inadequate police response to violent campaign against the minority Ahmadiyya Muslims;

Discrimination against members of religious minority communities in public employment and access to government services. Also repeated and sometimes fatal attacks against journalists, authors, and academics for debating sensitive social or political issues or otherwise expressing opinions deemed by militants to be offensive to Islam.

The Commission urges the United States government to pay particular attention to the poor situation for religious freedom in these countries, as the Commission itself will continue to do. #