'Minorities persecuted in Bangladesh'

DHAKA MAY 29. Amnesty International, the international human rights watchdog, in its annual report 2001, has alleged widespread persecution and ill-treatment of minority communities, women and custodial deaths in Bangladesh before and after the last year's general election.

The annual report was released simultaneously from 56 countries on human rights during 2001. The report on Bangladesh was released here on Tuesday.

The report alleged attacks on minority communities, particularly Hindus, and custodial torture by police and armed forces in the country. While commenting on religious persecution, the AI report said hundreds of Hindu families were reportedly subjected to violent attacks including rape, beating and the burning of their property following last October's election.

The Khaleda Zia Government did not, however, accept the charge. While admitting some of the incidents, the BNP and Jamaat-e-islami-led coalition Government said the criminal acts were carried out by its political opponents. ``They (the Hindus) were allegedly attacked by BNP supporters because of their perceived support for the Awami League''(which lost the election) , the Amnesty International said adding, "several Hindus were reportedly killed and Hindu women raped and their houses burnt. Hundreds of Hindu families were driven off their homes. About 150 people were killed in political violence before the elections,'' the report said and urged the Government to bring to justice the perpetrators of these attacks.

As a signatory to the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms Discrimination Against Women, the Government is required to take steps to eliminate discrimination against women, it said. "Hindus came under attacks by members of the BNP-led alliance before the election also, since it was perceived that they would vote for Awami League", the report said adding "the backlash after the election was systematic and severe''.

The report observed that the police failed to take effective measures to protect the minorities. Though some arrests were made, most of the perpetrators were not brought to justice. No information was also provided about an official investigation into the atrocities as promised. The failure of the police to investigate and take legal action against perpetrators of violence against women engendered a climate of impunity, it said.

In repose to a petition in November by the legal aid organisation, ``in-O-Shalish Kendra'', the High Court gave the Government one month's time to explain why it did not protect the Hindus. The Government promised investigation into the atrocities, but no information was provided in this regard, the AI said.

The report also said that the people of other minority communities also suffered attacks. In June, 10 people were killed and more than 20 injured in a bomb blast in a Church in Baniarchar in Gopalgonj district. ``The authorities appeared to ignore torture allegations. Thousands of people awaited trial in overcrowded prisons. In July, large number of people were detained during a drive to recover unlawful weapons, forcing prisoners to take turns to lie down to sleep''.

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