06/04/2018, 18.08
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After 17 years, no justice for the victims of the church attack in Baniarchor, Barisal

by Sumon Corraya

The Bangladesh Christian Association remembered the bloodiest attack against a Catholic church. In June 2001 a bomb exploded in front of the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer. Seven of the ten victims were children. A climate of impunity increases the risk of other crimes against religious minorities. Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists express their solidarity.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Seventeen years have passed since the bloodiest attack against a Catholic church in Bangladesh took place. Yet, the victims have not obtained justice, this according to the Bangladesh Christian Association (BCA), which yesterday held a rally in Dhaka.

Christians gathered to remember the attack on 3 June 2001 against the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer in Baniarchor, Diocese of Barisal, which left ten people dead, including seven children, and another 50 people wounded.

Those present criticised the authorities for their neglectful attitude. After all these years, no one has yet to be charged in connection with the attack. For them, the reason is clear: "It's because we are a minority".

In 2001, a bomb exploded in front of the church during Sunday Mass. The parish priest at the time was Fr Domenico Pietanza, a Xaverian from Italy. After the attack, he and Peter Boiragi, father of one of the victims, filed a complaint against person or persons unknown.

Police investigations later found that the attack was the work of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islam (HUJI), an Islamist group banned by the authorities in 2005.

Shaikh Abdur Rahman, leader of the fundamentalist movement Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, who confessed to his involvement, was the mastermind.

Police eventually arrested mufti Abdul Hannan, head of the HUJI. The latter was eventually sentenced to death for numerous crimes and executed on 12 April 2017.

Although the authorities arrested 29 persons involved in the church case, they never completed the investigation.

Christians were not alone at the memorial meeting. Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist leaders were also present at the protest, which was held in front of the National Press Club in the capital.

Organisers also used the event as an opportunity to remember the murder of Sunil Gomes, a 71-year-old Catholic merchant killed in front of his shop in Bonpara, a village in the Diocese of Rajshahi, as he made his way home from Sunday Mass.

"The government seeks out Christians and other minorities only during the elections,” said Fr Jerom D'Rozario, who was present at the gathering. “They want to use us as a vote bank, but when we are persecuted we do not get justice."

"We are citizens of this country and we want security,” he added. “We ask the government to shed light on what happened to the church in Baniarchor."

BCA president Nirmal Rozario agrees. "We want the police to complete the investigations and carry out indictments. The lack of justice in cases of persecution encourages perpetrators to commit other crimes."

Nony Mondol, 60, knows this. He lost his only son Jhontu in the attack. The lad used to go to “Sunday Mass without eating before,” he told AsiaNews. “He was very devout, but the bomb took away his innocent life.”

Mojid Mollick, a Muslim leader, expressed his "solidarity with my Christian brothers,” and asked “that justice be done.” He too slammed "radical groups that try to attack minorities to make the country unstable".

For Hindu leader Rana Das Gupta, "religious minorities become easy targets during elections. In 2001 an election campaign was underway. Fundamentalists carry out such acts to destabilise the country. For this reason, we ask that the government give us protection".

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