Christians make up 0.3 per cent of Bangladesh’s population, according to official data, concentrated primarily in Barisal, Khulna and Gazipur. Sectarian clashes between them and the majority population were until recently infrequent. However, their lives in Bangladesh have often been characterized by discrimination in many areas of their lives, including employment or housing. There have been reports of some Muslim landlords refusing to rent apartments to Christian families, for example, and Christians and other minorities typically work disproportionately in the most marginalized, poorly paid jobs such as street sweepers.
Like other minorities, Christians have on occasion been targeted during periods of political upheaval, such as in early 2014 when Christians in some areas were attacked around the country’s national elections. Bangladesh has witnessed a number of cases in recent years where Christians have been specifically targeted. One of the first major attacks took place on 3 June 2001, when a bomb was detonated in a Catholic church in a village in Gopalgank village, south of Bangladesh, killing at least nine people and injuring 20 others. While this remains the worst single incident against the community, violence against Christians has continued, enabled in part by their marginalized position within Bangladeshi society.
In some cases, attacks against Christian communities appear to have been driven by material concerns such as land. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, in areas populated by Christian indigenous communities, conflict over land with Muslim Bengali settlers has sometimes taken on a religious dimension as a result. Some Bengali settlers have allegedly spread rumours of plans by indigenous residents to set up an autonomous Christian state, triggering heavy surveillance from local security forces.
Elsewhere in the country, similar tensions have arisen between Christian and majority communities. On 7 January 2014, for example, Mandi Catholics were attacked by a group of Muslims and a house in Jamalpur set alight, apparently due to a dispute over land. An attack on a convent in Dinajpur in July 2014 by more than 50 armed men, including robbery and attempted rape, was attributed by clergy in part to a local land dispute.
Increasingly, Christians have also been targeted by extremist groups. For instance, at the beginning of October 2015, alleged Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) members attempted to slit the throat of a pastor in Pabna. Around the same time, a number of priests were sent a series of death threats, purportedly from members of the outlawed JMB and ISIS. In November 2015, further threats were issued anonymously to priests in Rangpur and another attack was carried out on an Italian priest in Dinajpur. On 10 December 2015, three Christians were stabbed by unknown assailants in their home, leaving them in a critical condition. While police presented the incident as a robbery, community members claimed that the stabbings were a premeditated attack on the community. Following these attacks, Christians reportedly skipped the traditional Christmas midnight mass services due to the increasing number of threats issued against Christian leaders.
Updated July 2018
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