At this special time of year, when Christians in the Americas and Europe celebrate Christmas, they should remember the plight of their Christian brethren who are less fortunate than themselves and should seek to be their advocates in the international community. 

As Christians around the world celebrate the Christmas holiday, decorating their homes with bright lights and opening up beautiful presents around their Christmas trees, Bangladeshi Christians cannot celebrate the holiday with the same level of joy as the people in the Americas and Europe can.  This is because they are systematically oppressed, dispossessed, robbed of their lands, murdered, raped and face every other type of atrocity imaginable in their native country merely because they were born into a persecuted minority faith.

According to local reports, thousands of Christians, mostly of tribal and humble origins, face daily oppression within the Asian country merely because they believe in the miracles of Jesus, son of Mary.   For example, in 2016 in Gaibandha, 4 Christians were murdered and 30 other people were wounded by a group of Muslims with the backing of the local police, merely so their land could be seized from them.

Samson Marandy, parish priest of Our Lady of Sorrow Church, told Asia News that 1,500 Christians are living under inhumane conditions in Bangladesh merely because their lands have been seized from them: “Even though the victims formally complained about it and called on the government to intervene, they have been abandoned and the administration has been silent. I do not know what’s behind it. I think they should protest more and file written complaints to get justice.”  One of the Christians, Joseph Murmu, said that “the government has behaved badly with the people. We want to get our land back.”

According to UCA News, while it is true that an unprecedented number of minorities are running in the upcoming Bangladeshi elections, with 18 running for the ruling Awami League Party and 7 running for the National Unity Front, an opposition alliance led by the BNP, only one Christian is in fact running in the upcoming Bangladeshi elections.  This remains the situation even though many more had sought to be nominated by the major parties to run and local Christian leaders had demanded that 5 Christians be nominated to run in the Bangladeshi elections, which will occur on December 30.

Furthermore, according to the report, Rana Dasgupta, secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, noted that longstanding demands for a quota of seats to be reserved seats for minorities had fallen on deaf ears while adding that merely fielding minority candidates will not be sufficient in order to implement change for the better: “We have been crying out for years so that political parties pledge to end direct and indirect abuse of minorities including politically motivated violence, land and property grabbing and discrimination.” So far, none of the major Bangladeshi parties have made such pledges.

Christians presently make up .5% of the Bangladeshi population but it is a huge question mark whether this minority will continue to live in their ancestral homeland in the years to come due to the systematic oppression that they face from the Bangladeshi government and Islamist groups.   For example, last year, the local police in Bangladesh raided the home of a local Christian widow and stole her money.  When the local Christian community tried to defend the widow, there was a violent confrontation, which resulted in the injury of 20 people.  More than 100 Christian villagers were later on charged with interfering with police work.

In another incident last year, Haji Ishak Miyan was given land to be developed by three Christian women.  Miyan decided to take the land without paying these women for developing it.  To make matters worse, he threatened to shoot these three Christian ladies like birds with the help of the local Awami League.   In another instance, which occurred more recently, the Gatestone Institute reported that a Muslim man escorted by 50 people seized land belonging to an elderly Catholic man.  For two years, the Catholic man has been begging the Bangladeshi government to help him get his home back to no avail.  To date, he is homeless because his home was stolen from him.  He claims that he is still forced to pay the bills of the home that he owns, even though he is being denied the right to live there and this has made it impossible for him to settle elsewhere.

The rise of radical Islam within Bangladesh has only made matters worse.  After the Sheikh Hasina government has declared that Bangladesh is an Islamic state and now seeks to have people punished for criticizing both Islam and the Prophet Muhammed, the plight of the Christians within the country is bleaker than ever.   Should Bangladesh enact a Blasphemy Law similar to Pakistan’s, the creation of a Bangladeshi Asia Bibi is just a matter of time.

Even before Sheikh Hasina’s announcement was made, there are already hundreds of cases filed against Hindus for hurting religious sentiment. There are also reports that the school textbooks in the country are increasingly encouraging fundamentalist Islamic thought and inciting against the minorities.  Should such legislation come into fruition, the Christians of Bangladesh and other minority groups will have a bleak future within the country, thus forcing many to consider leaving behind their ancestral homeland for good.

Thus, at this special time of year, when Christians in the Americas and Europe celebrate Christmas, they should remember the plight of their Christian brethren who are less fortunate than themselves and should seek to be their advocates in the international community.  As Proverbs 31:8-9 proclaims, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

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Rachel Avraham is the President of the Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi Center for Human Rights in Middle East (under formation) and is a political analyst at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, which is run by Mendi Safadi, Israeli Communication Minister Ayoob Kara's former chief of staff. In addition, she is a counter-terror analyst at the Islamic Theology on Counter-Terrorism, a think tank run by British Pakistani dissident Noor Dahri. For over 6 years, she is a Middle East based journalist, covering radical Islam, terrorism, human rights abuses in the Muslim world, minority rights abuses in the Muslim world, women's rights issues in the Muslim world, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Jewish Diaspora, anti-Semitism, international affairs and other issues of importance. Avraham is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media," a ground breaking book that was endorsed by former Israel Consul General Dr. Yitzchak Ben Gad and Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara.