Total population 161 million. 90 per cent are Sunni Muslim, 9.5 per cent Hindu. Most of the remainder are Christians; Buddhists, Shi’a Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, animists, agnostics and atheists are a very small proportion of the population.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2020
The constitution is secular, but states ‘The state religion of the Republic is Islam, but the State shall ensure equal status and equal rights in the practice of the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and other religions.” In practice religious minorities and the non-religious face structural and societal discrimination.
The broader environment in Bangladesh is authoritative and regressive inclining towards religious nationalism. The lack of democratic values and a brutal crackdown against secular and atheist bloggers and dissidents has created a culture of impunity that not only limits religious freedom but also places religious minorities under a constant threat of violence and discrimination.
Oppressive laws, like the Digital Security Act (DSA) that criminalises blasphemy as a non-bailable offence, continue to harass and threaten religious minority groups and the non-religious, paving the way for extremist elements to target and attack them. Incidents of mob lynching have increased. There are reports that suggest that the authorities are either sympathetic to the vigilantes or lack the competence to deal with them.
In July 2020, police indicated that seeking to arrest human rights activist and secular blogger Asaduzzaman Noor, also known as Asad Noor, after new criminal charges were brought against him under the Digital Security Act on July 14 for ‘spreading rumours’ and ‘defaming Islam’ via a Facebook video.
On 1 November 2020, 10 houses of Hindus and a government office were burned and destroyed by an extremist Muslim mob over an allegation of hurting the ‘religious sentiments’ of Muslims through a Facebook post supporting recent French cartoons. However, the police arrested two Hindus under the DSA while no action has been taken against the perpetrators.
In January 2020, a Sufi singer Shairiat Sarker was arrested under the DSA over charges of hurting ‘religious sentiments’ of Muslims as he uploaded comments on YouTube stating how religion was being used as a political tool.
On 7 November, the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council organised protests about violence against religious minorities, stating that 17 people had been killed in the previous seven months.
On 27 January around 25 Rohingya Christians were attacked in a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar; Rohingya Christians are more vulnerable due to their religion and ethnicity.
1.5 million Hindu families have been negatively impacted by the outworking of the Vested Property Law. There are also continued reports of land grabs within religious minority communities, including seizure of their houses of worship. Such actions are often preceded by physical assaults on families to drive them off their land and reportedly occur with the complicity or direct involvement of local government officials. Central government has taken steps to attempt to combat this.
In recent years, dissidents and activists have face enforced disappearances that has created a threat to atheists, and secular bloggers in particular, but also religious minorities in general.
FCDO Human Rights Report 2020
While the Government continued to give strong support to religious freedom, religious minorities, including Ahmadiyya Muslims and Hindus, reported that they had been targeted by extremists who used section 28(2) of the DSA (harming religious sentiment) to file cases against them. There were attacks on 67 minority places of worship, including temples, monasteries and statues. Hindus reported incidents of land grabbing, particularly following demonstrations against France in November. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the Mro indigenous people demonstrated in November against plans to construct a five-star hotel which threatened to displace them from their ancestral lands.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019
Although the constitution of Bangladesh is secular, and in 2010 the Supreme Court restored secularism as the fundamental component of the constitution, Islam remains the official state religion.
Minorities are concerned about the government’s affiliation with extremist Islamic parties, as they continue to give in to the demands of ultra-religious groups. According to Tasneem Khalil, an atheist blogger living in exile in Sweden, Hefazat-e-Islam Movement asked the government to remove stories and poems from school textbooks and to move a female statue representing justice from the Supreme court and the Government has agreed.
The fact that candidates of Islamic Andolon Bangladesh – a party which aims to establish a Caliphate – are taking part in the elections, holding rallies against the government and growing in popularity demonstrates the power of extremist religious parties in Bangladesh.
Atheists continue to fear persecution as the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has vowed that those who offend Islam, or the Prophet, will be taken to court under ‘Section 295A’ of the penal code. This provision states that any person who has ‘deliberate or malicious’ intent to ‘hurt religious sentiments’ can be imprisoned. It has been used in practice to prosecute and imprison atheist and secularist activists”.
This de-facto blasphemy law has also given rise and justification to targeted vigilante violence against non-religious and minority religious groups. For example, the Christian community has faced violence as a result of false accusations of blasphemy from extremist Islamist groups. The victims of this violence receive no justice as none of the cases have been taken seriously or been properly investigated nor has any perpetrator of violence has been brought to justice.
The 11th general election in Bangladesh in December 2018 was called ‘farcical’ or a ‘debacle’ by the opposition and independent media, as they were held while opposition political candidates were being detained and while there was a huge crackdown against media, activists, students and anyone else critical of the government. The elections turned the country into an authoritarian regime inclined towards extremist Islamic parties.
Anti-conversion laws remain a point of concern. In December 2018, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom published a special report on anti-conversion laws in South Asia in which it examined laws in Bangladesh, along with other countries in the region. According to the USCIRF Commissioner, these anti-conversion laws support extremists who seek to prevent anyone from leaving the majority religion.
The controversial Information and Communication (ICT) Act that was passed in September 2018 has been criticised as being a significant threat to freedom of expression and those vocal about atrocities committed by the State. It could also be used to further intimidate and harass persecuted religious and non-religious minority groups. This is because Section 57 of the ICT outlines criminal penalties for anyone who “causes to hurt or may hurt religious belief”, thereby creating a de-facto online blasphemy law.
FCO Human Rights Report 2019
Bangladesh section has no specific mention of FoRB.
In the UK Parliament, 2020
US State Department International Religious Freedom report 2020