22 February 2016

Situation worsens for Christians in Bangladesh as Islamic State claims responsibility for the recent rise in violence

A rise in the number of violent attacks on Christians in Bangladesh is due to a campaign of destruction carried out by local Islamic fundamentalists, according to Open Doors, a charity that supports persecuted Christians worldwide.

The self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks in Bangladesh over the past six months, as violence against minority groups increases. While the government of Bangladesh has claimed that there is no IS presence in the country*, IS claims to have appointed a regional leader in Bangladesh**.

This rise in violence against Christians, who make up just 1% of the 156 million population, is reflected in Open Doors 2016 World Watch List, the annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the worst persecution; in 2015, Bangladesh was number 43, but in 2016 rose to number 35.

Recent attacks by Islamic fundamentalists targeting Christians began in October. On 26 October 2015, Luke Sarker (50), from the Faith Bible Church of Ishordi, Pabna, was attacked with a knife to his throat. His attackers came to him pretending they wanted to know about the Bible.

On 18 November, an Italian missionary, Piero Parolari (78) was attacked in Dinajpur. He had served his village as a physician for 25 years. IS claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Many prominent Christians received threats against their lives at the end of 2015 – ten pastors in Rangpur district, northern Bangladesh, received anonymous letters stating: “Those who are preaching Christianity in Bangladesh must leave the world one by one.”

On 7 January this year, Khaza Somiruddin (75), the senior pastor of One Way Church of Bangladesh, was killed after receiving several threats. IS later claimed responsibility for the attack.

In the past, the persecution of Christians in Bangladesh was mainly focused on converts from Islam, such as 21-year-old Rubel Miah. He says: “My family forbids me from exercising my faith.”

Today, the situation is changing, and even those who were born into Christian communities face danger and discrimination.

Open Doors is an international charity that works to support Christians in over 60 countries who face discrimination and attack for their faith, including Christians in Bangladesh.

One of their projects trains Christians who have converted from Islam to become village doctors, providing them with an income and helping to meet the desperate need for medical professionals in rural parts of Bangladesh. So far 82 village doctors have been trained, including Rubel Miah. He says:

“Open Doors helped me set up a pharmacy in my village. Now people come to me for medicine and health consultation.”

*Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-bangladesh-isis-idUSKBN0UM17K20160108

** Source: https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/the-islamic-state-e2809cdc481biq-magazine-12e280b3.pdf

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Note to Editors - For more information contact Open Doors Press Office on 01993 777377

Open Doors World Watch List, which ranks the 50 places where Christians face the greatest persecution, is published every year in January. In 2016, Bangladesh is ranked at number 35, up eight places from number 43 in 2015. http://www.opendoorsuk.org/persecution/country_profiles.php

In Bangladesh, Open Doors supports Christians who are attacked for their faith through training, literacy and socio-economic development, providing advocacy and immediate relief to victims of persecution, and distributing Bibles.