A Bangladeshi Buddhist monk has pleaded to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to save a Buddhist temple, monastery, and local Buddhist community from political-Islamist propaganda and land grab threats.
The appeal was made in a video message circulated on Facebook by Bhante Saranangkar Thero, a Buddhist monk and principal of Gayanasarana monastery in Rangunia, southeastern Chittagong district.
“It has been four months since the crisis started at Rangunia and it is getting worse. A group of opportunist people has been trying to defame and ostracize a simple Buddhist monk, which is a disgrace. I would like to bring the matter to the attention of our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,” the monk said Oct. 20.
Since July, Islamist hardliners allegedly instigated by local politician Ershad Mahmud, have been demanding punishment for the monk accusing him of defaming Islam on Facebook.Bhante Saranagkar has been in hiding since then.
Ershad Mahmud is the younger brother of Dr. Hasan Mahmud, information minister of the ruling Awami League government.
Secularists and rights activists said the attack on the monk is part of a conspiracy to grab the land of the local Buddhist temple and monastery.
A doctored Facebook page was created and anti-Muslim posts were circulated to target the monk, they claimed.
The monk alleged that conspirators have been abusing power and exploiting the name of the ruling party of PM Hasina in order “to build up mountains of corruption, to destroy communal harmony and to establish a reign of terror.”
He termed this as an attack on the religious harmony, peace, and the pluralist culture of Bangladesh.
Charges against the monk and blogger
The attempted land grab by defaming the monk was first exposed on social media by Asad Noor, an India-based Bangladeshi atheist blogger.
Noor was charged by a leader of the student front ruling Awami League on July 14 under Bangladesh’s draconian Digital Security Act (DSA) for hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims with his posts.
In his absence, police allegedly detained and harassed his family for hours before letting them go after criticism at home and abroad.
Bhante Saranagkar has been charged in a series of lawsuits including two cases under the DSA for hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims, local police officials confirmed.
Masudur Rahman, chief government officer in Rangunia, said the situation is calm in Rangunia but there are sporadic protests and human chains by local people against the monk.
“We have met and talked with leaders of various faiths and told them not to do anything that can hurt religious sentiments of anyone and destroy harmony. We are not aware about the location of Bhante Saranagkar and it is true he has been charged in a series of cases,” Rahman told UCA News.
A similar pattern of oppression
Bangladesh is a pluralist country but sectarianism has crept into sections of people that pose dangers for minorities, said Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission.
“There are vested quarters in various places who abuse the name of the ruling party to make personal gains by attacking minority communities. In the case of Rangunia, the government needs to be sincere to solve the crisis before it’s too late,” Father Gomes told UCA News.
“It is not an isolated incident but a part of a conspiracy by opportunists and it must be stopped. Otherwise, one-day minorities will become refugees and migrants,” the priest noted.
In recent years, Bangladesh has seen abuse of fake Facebook accounts to perpetrate attacks against religious minorities.
Muslim mobs destroyed 19 Buddhist temples and about 100 houses in Ramu, Cox’s Bazar and Patiya of Chittagong after a Buddhist man allegedly defamed Islam on Facebook in 2012.
In 2013, Muslims vandalized 26 Hindu houses in Santhiya in Pabna district, for Facebook posts defaming Islam, allegedly circulated by a 10th-grader Hindu boy.
In 2016, Hindus in Nasirnagar, Brahmanbaria district and in 2017, Hindus in Thakur Para, Rangpur district came under attack over Facebook posts allegedly made by Hindu men that defamed Islam.