DHAKA, Bangladesh — Two Bangladesh pastors have been charged with “hurting religious sentiments” and could face two years behind bars after they were arrested during a house church service.
Arif Mondol leads the Faith Bible Church of God in Lalmonirhat, and meets with 30-40 area Christians on a regular basis. Earlier this month, as he and a visiting pastor were conducting a baptism, a mob of angry Muslims between 100-200 in number stormed the building and began attacking Mondol and his friend. According to Open Doors, the Muslims were upset that some of those being baptized were former 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,” a source also told Morning Star News. “The pastors replied that it did not take any permission from any authority to propagate any religion and convert people to any religion.”
“Suddenly the Muslims became apoplectic with rage, tried to pick a fight and started jabbing the pastors’ faces,” they explained.
Local police soon became involved and arrested both of the pastors, along with all of the 40-plus Christians that had gathered inside. While all of the church members were released later that day, Muslim imams filed charges against Mondol and the visiting pastor, accusing them of trying to convert residents to Christianity. They also claimed that the men were bribing men to convert, which the pastors deny.
Mondol and his co-pastor were later released after posting bail, and a lawyer who helped obtain their release said if convicted, the men could find themselves behind bars.
“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,” Nazrul Islam Mukul told Morning Star News. “People of the locality were very angry with the pastors. If police had not come [in a] timely [manner], they would have faced severe consequences.”
A hearing is set for next month.
Although Bangladesh does not have laws against evangelism, Christians in the country often face persecution for their faith by extremist Muslims in the region.
“Most of the police and administration here [in Bangladesh] are Muslim,” an church leader told Open Doors. “Some are open, but many are not. This is a secular country, but in practice we don’t see that very much. Everyone has the right to preach and practice and choose their own religion. The police and administration know that, and yet this is going on.”
Muslims are estimated at making up approximately 86 percent of the Bangladesh population, with Hinduism being the second largest religion in the nation. Less than one percent of the population is Christian.