The murder of a young man, who had a criminal record, has become a pretext for hatred against the Christian community. As the investigation gets underway, some local Muslims have threatened retaliation: “They killed one of ours, we will kill ten of them.” Christian leaders fear becoming targets, “ask for security”.
Moulvibazar (AsiaNews) – About 2,000 Catholics have been living in fear for several days after local police found the body of Rimon Miah, a young Muslim man, near Lokhipur parish church in Meghatila Punji, Moulvibazar District, on the morning of 6 February.
According to some local Catholics, the 25-year-old man, a resident from a nearby village, had a criminal record.
After the discovery of the body, the young man’s relatives staged a protest in Kulaura, a sub-local district, stirring hatred against the local indigenous population, 98 per cent of whom are Christians earning a living from betel leaves.
Some local Christian leaders spoke to police about their concerns regarding threats from Muslims.
"We heard that during the protests they [the Muslims] declared: 'They [the Christians] killed one of ours, we will kill ten of them’.” said Bably Bably Talang, general secretary of Kuboraz, a development organisation that works closely with indigenous peoples.
"Our people live days of fear,” she told AsiaNews. “Many men have left the village fearing arrest by the police. We could be attacked by Muslims any time."
Christians complain that following the incident outsiders have prevented the sale of betel leaves in local villages, well known for their punjees (betel plantations).
"We don’t know who killed Rimon Miah,” said Arun Sangma, a local Catholic. “He was a criminal and had many enemies. We know nothing but we received threats from his relatives. These are days of fear for us. We will be attacked. We want security."
For its part, the local police opened an investigation against person or persons unknown in connection with Rimon Miah’s assassination.
"I asked the officer in charge of Kulaura police station not to arrest innocent Christians," Nirmol Rozario, president of the Bangladesh Christian Association, told AsiaNews.
"I demand that local police conduct an impartial investigation into Rimon Miah’s killing so that he may receive justice,” he added. “I also ask for security for the Christians of the area to avoid any kind of sectarian violence."
Kulaura police station chief Md Shamsuddoha said that that investigation is ongoing and that "local Christians have nothing to fear since only the guilty will face the brunt of the law once the investigation is concluded.”
Despite such reassurances, acts of sectarian violence against religious minorities are very common in Bangladesh.
Christians represent only 0.4 per cent of the country’s 160 million people, mostly Muslims.
It proved impossible to contact the Oblate priests responsible for Lokhipur parish. The latter has about 3,000 members, all from the indigenous tribes of Bangladesh’s hill region.