DHAKA (Reuters) - Police in Bangladesh have arrested dozens of people following fresh violence against Hindus, a senior officer said on Sunday, after a spate of attacks prompted concerns the authorities were not doing enough to protect the country’s biggest minority.
Hindu homes and temples in the Brahmanbairs district of eastern Bangladesh have come under attack during the last week, after a local youth allegedly shared a Facebook post that Islamic hardliners said denigrated the Masjid al-Haram — a holy site for Muslims.
Muslim hardliners protested and demanded action against the Hindu youth, who denies sharing the post. Police arrested the youth for hurting religious sentiment, but the arrest failed to defuse tension and quell the rioting.
Abu Zafar, the officer in charge of Nasir Nagar police station in the district, told reporters that so far 53 people had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in attacks and looting from Hindu homes.
Attacks on Hindus, who make up around 8 percent of the population, and other religious minorities are not uncommon in the mostly Muslim South Asian country, but the scale of the recent anti-Hindu violence is unusual.
Bangladesh’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has launched an investigation into the attacks. The head of its fact-finding committee said the violence was the result of a “pre-planned conspiracy”, and criticized local authorities for allowing the demonstrations that triggered the rioting to go ahead.
“The administration, including police, was negligent and callous in handling such a sensitive issue,” the NHRC’s Enamul Hoque Chowdhury told Reuters.
The violence comes amid international concern about rising Islamist militancy in Bangladesh and the growing influence of Islamic State in the country.
In July, Islamists carried out an attack on a cafe in an upscale district of the capital, Dhaka, in which 22 people were killed - mostly non-Muslims and foreigners, including one American.
The Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) estimates more than 100 Hindu houses and 17 temples have been vandalized and looted since the violence began on Oct 30.
Rana Dasgupta, general secretary at the BHBCUC, told Reuters the violence was aimed at driving people from their homes.
“The purpose of the attacks is to free this soil from the minority community and also to occupy their properties and assets,” he said.
Reporting by Serajul Quadir, Writing by Rajesh Kumar Singh, Editing by Larry King and Alex Richardson