(Morning Star News) – Two pastors in northwestern Bangladesh could face two years in prison if convicted for “hurting religious sentiments.”
Police on Nov. 9 arrested the pastors and 41 people, including Muslims, who were listening to proclamation of Christ at a rented house in Nabinagar village in Lalmonirhat District, 300 kilometers (186 miles) northwest of Dhaka, after at least 100 Islamists disrupted the meeting and began “jabbing” at the church leaders’ faces, sources said.
The 41 people who were detained along with their children were released that night; the pastors of Faith Bible Church of God were not released on bail until Nov. 17, charged with “hurting religious sentiments” and luring Muslims to convert by offering money. The church leaders deny both charges.
“We did not tell anything to anyone that might hurt religious sensibility,” one of the released pastors, Arif Mondol, told Morning Star News. “We did not offer any money to anyone to be converted to Christianity.”
An area source told Morning Star News on condition of anonymity that the incident caused a sweeping furor among local Muslims.
“More than 100 Muslims headed by local Jamaat-e-Islami party members and Muslim clerics gathered at the house and started barking questions at the pastors – why did they propagate Christianity in the locality and convert some of them,” the source said.
The Islamist leaders asked the pastors who had given them permission to spread Christianity in the area.
“The pastors replied that it did not take any permission from any authority to propagate any religion and convert people to any religion,” the source said. “Suddenly the Muslims became apoplectic with rage, tried to pick a fight and started jabbing the pastors’ faces.”
Police arrived and detained all 41 people, along with their children, and the two pastors, and took them to the Lalmonirhat police station at noon.
Local imams filed a case against the pastors the following day. Police told Morning Star News they were investigating.
Nazrul Islam Mukul, an attorney who helped the two church leaders to obtain bail, told Morning Star News that the pastors told those in attendance that Jesus Christ was alive and would return, and that as the living one everyone should come to Him for salvation.
“If the allegations of the case are proved and if they are found guilty, they will be put in jail for maximum of two years according to Article 295/A,” Mukul said. “People of the locality were very angry with the pastors. If police had not come timely, they would have faced severe consequences.”
A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 21.
Nirmol Rozario, secretary general of Bangladesh Christian Association, told Morning Star News that the charges went against the spirit of the country’s constitution.
“I demand that the case against the pastors should be dismissed, since the grounds of the case are contradictory to our constitution,” Rozario said. “This is the act of the communal and religious fanatics.”
Sunni Muslims constitute 90 percent of Bangladesh’s population, according to the 2011 census, with Hindu making up 9.5 percent of the total population, which the U.S. government estimates at 163.7 million people . The remainder of the population is Christian (mostly Roman Catholic) and Theravada-Hinayana Buddhist. There are also small numbers of Shia Muslims, Bahais, animists, and Ahmadiyya Muslims.