“You, the Christian leaders, will have to bid goodbye to this world very soon,” pastor Barnabas Hemrom was told in a letter sent to him last Wednesday (25 November) that listed the names of a further nine church pastors. Over 20 church leaders and Christian workers have received death threats in the past two months.
We are going to finish off all, one by one, who are spreading Christianity in Bangladesh,” read the letter sent to pastor Hemron. One of the nine pastors whose names were listed in the letter is afraid for his safety. “I am not going out of the church campus at all,” he said. “I spoke to others who like me were targeted in that letter. They are all frightened.” Police have been posted at his church, he said.
Rev. Martin Adhikari, principal of the College of Christian Theology in capital city Dhaka, received a text message on 11 November telling him to “Eat your most favourite foods now. Only five days of your life are left. Not more than that.” Another text sent to him the next day read, “One day has gone by. Let us know if we have to arrange your burial as well. Or…will your family take care of your body?”
Those sending the threats claim they are part of Islamist groups Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Islamic State. Their agenda is clear: “This country will be ruled only by the (Islamic) Sharia law,” read the letter sent to Pastor Hemrom.
Although Bangladesh is a secular country and its legal system makes it one of the most tolerant Muslim-majority countries in the world, there are Islamist groups lobbying for the Islamisation of the country. The situation has become increasingly volatile in recent months, and Bangladeshi Christians, who make up just 1% of a population that is 90% Muslim, are vulnerable targets.
Last Saturday (28 November), a Christian worker managed to escape unharmed after six masked men stormed a church in Manikganj district. Ten days earlier, an Italian Christian worker was shot in the town of Dinajpur, in northern Bangladesh.
In the north-western Pabna district, Pastor Luke Sarker survived a knife attack in his home on 5 October when three men pretending they wanted to learn about Christianity attempted to slit his throat.