Washington, D.C. (January 8, 2014) — Leaders at the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) expressed deep concern today over recent election related violence in Bangladesh that left more than 22 dead and hundreds injured across the country. Supporters of the right-wing Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which boycotted the elections, and their allies from Jamaat-e-Islaami (JeI) and Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) carried out attacks on more than 400 polling stations, targeting ordinary voters in an attempt to disrupt national elections held this past Sunday.
Members of the Hindu minority, in particular, were subjected to widespread attacks and threats by heavily armed mobs of BNP, JeI, and ICS members in both pre and post-election violence. According to media reports, at least 350 Hindu homes and 50 shops were damaged, vandalized, or set on fire in Dinajpur district, while more than 100 Hindu owned homes were attacked in Jessore district. The violence reportedly led thousands of Hindus to flee their homes for safety, including 1,200 Hindus from Gopalpur village who sought refuge in a nearby temple following the elections.
“We congratulate the Bangladeshi people for voting in the face of rampant voter intimidation, threats, and violence by activists from the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami,” said Jay Kansara, the HAF’s Associate Director for Government Relations. “It is incumbent upon the government and law enforcement to provide security and protection to Bangladeshis exercising their democratic rights, especially the Hindu community, which has been repeatedly targeted by BNP and Jamaat activists in a systematic campaign.”
The Foundation asserted that these most recent attacks were a continuation of opposition led violence in 2013, which witnessed large-scale assaults by BNP and JeI supporters on the homes and businesses of Hindus and Awami League officials, as well as grenade and bomb attacks on security forces and civilians in crowded streets.
“While peaceful dissent and opposition is an integral part of any democracy, the use of violence by the BNP and its radical Islamist allies to disrupt the elections and attack minorities has caused chaos across this fragile country,” said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF’s Director and Senior Human Rights Fellow. “The response from the U.S. thus far has been disappointing, and we urge the State Department to take a stronger stand against the actions of the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami. This includes preemptively banning leaders of these organizations from entering the U.S. who have engaged in ‘particularly severe violations of religious freedom’ as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act.”
Kalra added that there were also several incidents of religiously motivated violence against the Hindu community throughout 2013, which were highlighted during a Congressional Hearing on Bangladesh last November. HAF advocated for the Hearing and submitted written testimony on the deteriorating conditions in the country.
The brunt of last year’s violence followed convictions by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of high-ranking Jamaat and BNP leaders (and the execution one senior JeI leader, Abdul Qader Molla) for committing crimes against humanity during the country’s 1971 War of Independence from Pakistan. The Tribunals, established in 2010 to investigate war crimes committed during the 1971 War, albeit far from perfect are widely popular in Bangladesh and seen as a means to achieve justice for the victims of that conflict, where an estimated three million ethnic Bengalis (mostly Hindus) were killed and more than 10 million displaced.