BANGLADESH 1By Maria Lozano, ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

 Montreal, Tuesday January 14 , 2014 —

A  violent and also fatal boycott took place in Bangladesh by opposition parties in the hope of preventing a vote in Bangladesh, following a  general election last Sunday, 5 January 2014.  The ruling Awami league had had an overwhelming win, due to a low voter turnout.

A hundred polling stations were the targets of attack as part of a boycott led by the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ally, the Islamist and markedly fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party. According to the latest information, at least 21 people were killed and more than 300 injured during the violence surrounding these elections.

Sources close to the international Catholic pastoral foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)  told of the tensions during the days running-up to the election, which also coincided with Christmas celebrations. “Due to the terrible and difficult situation, the majority of people were unable to celebrate Christmas in my region in Dinajpur. In most of the dioceses many of the villages are far apart and generally the priest can only celebrate Mass there only once or twice a year. As a result of the boycott, the roadblocks and the terrorist attacks, the priests and catechists were unable to move about easily; even in their own towns or villages it was not possible to move around.”

The source goes on to explain that in addition to burning cars, throwing tanks of gasoline against the trains and lifting railway lines, followers of the most fundamentalist opposition parties also resorted to attacking religious minorities in the country, especially Hindus. “They are burning the houses of the minorities, looting them and even beating people, sometimes to the point of death. Every day we see photographs in the paper of many people killed in these extreme conditions. We are living through a terrible situation.”

BANGLADESH 3The situation has grown worse since the elections. “On the very day of the election, a number of Hindu houses were looted and then burned in a village near our house. Last night, January 7, a Christian village was burned and many people were beaten. Some members of our families are among them. Please pray for the safety and protection of the ordinary people in our country, especially those of minorities.”

According to other sources contacted by ACN, the situation is not as serious in other of the country’s regions. Many of the acts of violence were not generally directed against specific individuals, but rather took place within the context of the boycott and the strike in opposition to the elections.

It is also undoubtedly true, however, that there have been attacks on religious minorities, and particularly against the Hindu minority, who have suffered  the worst of the violence. One priest from Dhaka reports: “There are some places where the people have suffered greatly, for example one district in Dinajpur and two districts in the diocese of Khulna. In the capital and other districts where election was held, the government called out the army, and the security forces were very much on the alert. They sent the police to all the churches for their protection, both in the cities of Dhaka and in the surrounding villages. Hence I was able to celebrate Christmas in a village 30 km from the city of Dhaka. There were more than 10 police officers posted at the door of the church, from  December 23 to the evening of the 25th. Everything was peaceful, even though I was personally frightened to travel around on my motorbike during those days.”

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