DHAKA, Bangladesh (BP) — Two pastors in northwestern Bangladesh could each face two years in prison if convicted of “hurting religious sentiments.”
Police arrested the pastors Nov. 9 along with 41 people listening to their preaching at a rented house in Nabinagar village 186 miles northwest of Dhaka after at least 100 Muslims disrupted the meeting and began “jabbing” at the church leaders’ faces, sources said.
The 41 listeners, 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. They were 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 pastors, said. “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 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.
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, detained the pastors and those listening to their preaching, and took them to the Lalmonirhat police station.
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 obtain bail, said the pastors preached that Jesus Christ was alive and would return and that 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 [a] maximum of two years,” Mukul said. “… 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 scheduled for Dec. 21.
Nirmol Rozario, secretary general of Bangladesh Christian Association, said the charges contradict 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 Hindus making up 9.5 percent of the total population, which the U.S. government estimates at 163.7 million people. Most of the remainder of the population is Christian (largely Roman Catholic) and Theravada-Hinayana Buddhist. There are small numbers of Shia Muslims, Bahais, animists and Ahmadiyya Muslims.