01/26/2010, 00.00
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Netrokona: armed gang attacks Catholic activist and his wife

by William Gomes
Sanjeeb Drong, an advocate for the rights of indigenous communities, and his wife Mitali Chisim have been injured. The attack is linked to the centennial celebrations of Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church. Human rights organisations and Christian leader slam the violence and demand security.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – A group of thugs attacked a Catholic activist who heads an association that defends the rights of indigenous communities. The incident occurred on 22 January in Netrokona, a district in central Bangladesh, some 173 kilometres from the capital Dhaka. Sanjeeb Drong and his wife Mitali Chisim were coming home when eight people attacked them. Only the intervention of the bishop and other worshippers stopped the attack, which appears linked to the centennial celebrations of the local Catholic community.

“Our Lady saved my life,” Sanjeeb Drong (pictured) said, “but my wife and I have been badly injured. I am scared.”

Originally from the north, the Catholic activist is the secretary general of the Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, a national organisation that includes 45 indigenous communities.

“A group of seven or eight hoodlums attacked us when we were on our way home after taking part in a meeting in Birishiri, where we discussed preparations for the 100 years of Saint Joseph’s Church.” Celebrations are planned for 12-14 February.

He still remembers vividly the dramatic moments of the attack, the group causing them to fall from their motorcycle, starting to beat them wildly, with sticks and bare hands.

“They beat me like a dog, but my wife and I were able to escape, finding refuge in a nearby house,” he said.

The thugs followed the couple but fled after a group of residents accompanied by the bishop and a local priest got involved.

Mgr Paul Ponen Kubi, bishop of Mymensingh, said that he intervened to help the Catholic activist, but did not comment the incident.

Fr Simon Hacha, parish priest at Saint Joseph’s, said he saw the man “bleeding” and “brought him to the parish church to have his wounds tended.”

“Worshipers are shocked,” the priest said, that such an attack could come right on the eve of the centennial celebrations of the local Catholic community. “We are very much confused,” he added, “and fear more attacks during the celebrations. We want security.”

Sanjeeb Drong has filed charges and police has begun an investigation. However, nothing is known about the attackers.

In the meantime, human rights organisations, student activists and Christian leaders have condemned in no uncertain terms the attack and have called for exemplary punishment of the culprits. Above all, they have called for “security ahead of the jubilee of Saint Joseph’s Church.”

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