Johura Begum, 42, of Pingna village said a member of the local union council, an area government representative and the father of a police officer threatened to harm her grown daughters if her family did not pay them 20,000 taka (US$283). The police officer whose father was allegedly involved in the extortion was investigating a fabricated charge that Christians had paid Muslims to participate in a river baptism on May 26.
Begum had invited seven converts from Islam, including three women, to be baptized on the occasion, she said. Only six men among 55 converts were baptized by the leaders of the Pentecostal Holiness Church of Bangladesh (PHCB), Christian leaders said, as the rest were intimidated by protesting Muslims; the next day, area Islamists with bullhorns shouted death threats to Christians.
Begum said her husband is a day-laborer at a rice-husking mill, and that 20,000 taka was a “colossal amount” for them. She was able to borrow the money from a Christian cooperative, she said.
“I gave the extortion money for the sake of our safety and security,” Begum said. “It not possible to say aloud what abusive language they used against me for inviting people to God.” Villagers backed by a political leader of the ruling Bangladesh Awami League party also allegedly extorted 250,000 taka (US$3,535) from another Christian woman, 35-year-old Komola Begum of Doulatpur village, whose husband is a successful fertilizer seller.
The villagers claimed that she and her husband had become rich by receiving funds from Christians. After the baptisms, local Muslims beat her husband to such an extent that he received three days of hospital treatment for his injuries, she said.
Komola Begum, who had invited 11 persons including three women to the baptisms, told Compass that her husband’s life was spared only because she paid what the Muslims demanded.
“My husband is a scapegoat – he simply does business,” she said. “But he was beaten for my faith and activities.” For three days after the baptism ceremony, Jamalpur district villagers announced through bullhorns the punishment Christians would receive for their activities, chanting among other slogans, “We will peel off the skins of the Christians.” They also shouted that they would not allow any Christians to live in that area.
Johura Begum said that when she became a Christian 20 years ago, area Muslims beat her and forced her to leave the village, though she was able to return three years later.
“Local Muslims bombarded us with propaganda – that when I became a Christian, I would have to be naked in the baptism before the Christian cleric,” said Johura Begum. “Recently they are bad-mouthing Christianity with these kinds of disgraceful and scurrilous rumors, and my daughters cannot attend their classes.”