US religious freedom report misrepresents ground scenario in Bangladesh: govt

Diplomatic Correspondent | Published: 22:35, May 17,2021 | Updated: 22:49, May 17,2021


Bangladesh on Monday observed that the recently-published report by the United States government on religious freedom did not reflect the country’s ground scenario on the matter.

‘The recently-published report by the US Government on religious freedom in Bangladesh did not well reflect the ground scenario,’ state minister for foreign affairs M Shahriar Alam told US ambassador Earl Miller, according to a press release of the foreign ministry.

The instances regarding violations of religious freedom mentioned in the report ‘are discrete incidents’ and action were taken against the perpetrators, Alam said as the ambassador called on him at the foreign ministry on Monday.

The US Department of State released the ‘2020 Report on International Religious Freedom’ on May 12 after submitting it to the US Congress in compliance with the country’s International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

According to the report, though most of the mosques were independent of the state, the government has continued to influence the appointment and removal of imams and provided guidance through the Islamic Foundation on the content of imams’ sermons.

It said that the written instructions issued by the government had highlighted certain Quranic verses and sayings of the prophet of Islam.

According to the report, religious community leaders said that imams in all mosques had usually continued the practice of avoiding sermons that contradicted government policies.

The government also instructed mosques to denounce extremism.

While there is no specific blasphemy law, authorities use the penal code and a section of the Information and Communication Technology Act and the Digital Security Act to charge individuals for acts perceived to be a slight against Islam, the report stated.

The Information and Communication Act criminalises several forms of online expression, including ‘obscene material,’ ‘expression(s) likely to cause deterioration of law and order,’ and ‘statements hurting religious sentiments,’ according to the report.  

The Digital Security Act likewise criminalises publication or broadcasting of ‘any information that hurts religious values or sentiments,’ by denying bail and increasing penalties of imprisonment up to 10 years, it said.

Religious studies are compulsory part of the curriculum from Class III to Class X in all government-accredited schools, it stated.

Criminal charges were also brought against several bauls for allegedly hurting religious sentiments in 2020.

Religious minorities continued to state that religious minority students sometimes were unable to enrol in religion classes because of an insufficient number of religious minority teachers for mandatory religious education classes.

Sections of members of religious and ethnic minorities alleged that the government had been unsuccessful in preventing forced evictions and land seizures, according to the report.

The Bangladesh government ‘is making its best efforts to ensure communal harmony and non-discrimination’ in the country, the state minister added.

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