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2021 WORLD WATCH LIST #31

BANGLADESH

Country rank

31

Persecution score

66.69

Last year’s rank

38

Region

Asia

Persecution Type

Dictatorial paranoia (Strong), Islamic oppression (Strong), Ethno-religious hostility (Medium), Religious nationalism (Medium)

Persecution Level

Very High

Population

169,775,000

Christians

903,000 (0.5%) Data source: Johnson T M and Zurlo G A, eds., World Christian Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed February 2020).

Main Religion

Islam

Government

Parliamentary Republic

Leader

President Abdul Hamid

In cooperation with local partners and churches, Open Doors supports the church in Bangladesh through:

• Equipping and training of believers
• Bible and Christian literature distribution
• Socio-economic development
• Literacy classes
• Emergency relief

ABOUT BANGLADESH

 What does persecution look like in Bangladesh?

Christians in Bangladesh face the greatest pressure in their general community and private life. Bangladeshi society is growing increasingly Islamic, with the government doing more to appease concerns from Muslim extremists. Islamic extremists in the country pressure all groups of Christians. Evangelistic churches—many of them Pentecostal—that work among the Muslim majority face the most persecution, but even historical churches like the Roman Catholic Church are increasingly faced with attacks and death threats.

Converts from a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or an ethnic/tribal background suffer the most severe restrictions, discrimination and attacks in Bangladesh. They often gather in small house churches or secret groups due to fear of attack. 

Tribal Christians, like those from the Santal people group, face an increasing double vulnerability (belonging to both an ethnic and religious minority) and struggle with land-grabbing issues and violence directed against them. Christians among the Muslim-majority Rohingya people, who fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar, face harassment and strong pressure from their community, as well. In the reporting period, they were the target of a violent attack by extremist Muslim groups in the camps. 

How women experience persecution

Women and girls are most vulnerable to persecution from their nuclear family, extended family, friends, neighbors and local community. Because women and girls are mostly dependent on males, sexual assault, rape and forced marriage are common forms of religious persecution. They are not only abused physically, but also mentally.

Women and girls are also prone to discrimination in the workplace and in schools. Reports of rapes and sexual harassment, even in government schools, are increasingly common, although these incidents are underreported due to social stigma.

The US State Department’s 2018 International Religious Freedom Report states that, despite longstanding government orders to the contrary, village community leaders (often together with local religious leaders) continued to use extrajudicial fatwas (Islamic legal pronouncement) to punish individuals, mostly women, for perceived “moral transgressions,” such as adultery and other illicit sexual relations.

On the other hand, women are increasingly being empowered to join the workforce and are therefore gradually gaining more independence. In addition, even in a country with very complicated marital laws, some progress is being made in ensuring more protection for women of all religions. Muslims, Hindus and Christians all have separate laws on marriage, separation and divorce. 

How men experience persecution

One result of patriarchal cultural norms in Bangladesh is that males generally become Christians first, followed by their families. As leaders within their families, men and boys often face persecution first. Additionally, Christian spouses of non-Christians are excluded from claiming custody of any children, leading to the separation of Christian men from their children. 

Men and boys are particularly subject to all sorts of physical violence, torture, false accusations and arrest for reasons of faith. Violence comes in many forms—Christian men can be beaten, jailed, monitored, abused, be threatened with death, find their house and property demolished or confiscated, and be harassed by local and national government officials.

Because men are the main breadwinners of Bangladeshi families (including in Christian families), losing their job because of their faith will affect their whole family. The same is true for shop owners facing a boycott from their surrounding community. 

What has changed this year?

At number 31 on the 2021 World Watch List, Bangladesh has risen by two spots primarily because of slight increases in many areas of persecution. In many aspects of daily life, pressure has tightened for Bangladeshi Christians, and they experience discrimination and persecution. There have been violent attacks against Christians in 2020, as well. In the spring, there was a violent incident against the tiny Christian community among the Rohingya refugee community that fled Myanmar for Bangladesh. There has also been better reporting, particularly in rural areas, which show how much pressure in church life has increased. Finally, in many anecdotal situations, Christians were left out of COVID-19 government relief, often facing starvation or severe health issues.  

Who is most vulnerable to persecution?

Bangladesh’s northern region, with the Chittagong Hill Tracts district and its many ethnic minorities, is an overlooked hotspot for persecution against Christians at the hands of both the Muslim majority and the Buddhist minority. 

In the last three years, another hotspot developed when Bangladesh became host to more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees from neighboring Myanmar. Bangladesh struggles to take care of them, even with the help of the international community. The longer the refugees must stay in camps, the higher the risk is that some will be prone to Islamic radicalization, affecting Bangladesh as well. Since efforts to return home have constantly stalled, this is a real risk. The camps also shelter a tiny minority of Rohingya Christians—mostly converts from Islam—who are facing increasing pressure without options to leave.  

 

How can I help Christians in Bangladesh

What does Open Doors do to help Christians in Bangladesh?

In Bangladesh, Open Doors works by equipping and training Christians and Christian leaders. There’s a particular focus on training new leaders and Christians who have converted from Islam—the latter are also particularly trained in how to prepare for persecution, since converts from Islam are often targeted. Open Doors also provides Bibles and other Christian literature, especially in rural areas where Bibles might be difficult to afford or access. Open Doors also helps train Christians in literacy and through socio-economic development, to better equip the church in Bangladesh to carry out the Great Commission. Finally, Open Doors responds to emergency needs—in 2020, this meant helping believers who were denied aid during the COVID-19 pandemic or who desperately needed urgent help after Cyclone Amphan.  

Your gift today will show our persecuted brothers and sisters in Bangladesh, and other countries in the World Watch List they are loved and remembered by you.

Pray

-Pray for trainings for Christians from different tribes and cultures, that they would be equipped to take back what they have learned to strengthen their communities.

-Pray for Christians who are discriminated against in government aid distributions during COVID-19 and cyclone relief. Often, poor day laborers faced a loss of income and starvation. Pray they would be able to recover, both physically and emotionally. 

-Pray for the small group of Rohingya Christians as they seek to follow Jesus in the refugee camps in Bangladesh. Pray they will be kept safe and will be able to walk with Jesus, no matter what.

A PRAYER FOR BANGLADESH

God, we pray for the Christians of Bangladesh, coming from so many tribes, tongues and nations. We know You are the God of all people, and that You knit us together as one Church. Would You be the comfort of Your people in Bangladesh? Would You keep them safe, and help them to grow in faith, hope and love as they seek Your face? We pray these things in the name of Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.