The constitution designates Islam as the state religion but upholds the principle of secularism. It prohibits religious discrimination and provides for equality for all religions. The government provided guidance to imams throughout the country on the content of their sermons in its stated effort to prevent militancy and to monitor mosques for “provocative” messaging. In November police arrested two suspects with ties to an al-Qa’ida inspired group in connection with the 2015 killing of a U.S.-born blogger critical of religious extremism. According to the press, one of the suspects confessed to involvement in the killing of four other secular activists. Despite government orders to the contrary, village community leaders, often working together with local religious leaders, used extrajudicial fatwas to punish women and other groups for perceived “moral transgressions.” Religious minority communities such as Hindus and Christians, which are also sometimes ethnic minorities, reported the government failed to effectively prevent forced evictions and land seizures stemming from land disputes. According to local organizations and media reports, the Ministry of Education (MOE) made significant changes to traditionally secular Bengali language textbooks, such as removing non-Muslim authors’ content and adding Islamic content to nonreligious subject matter. The government continued to provide law enforcement personnel at religious sites, festivals, and events considered to be possible targets for violence.
There were attacks on religious minorities, particularly Buddhists and Hindus, during the year. In June hundreds of Bengali Muslim villagers in the southeastern part of the country set fire to 300 houses belonging to members of the Chakma, a mostly Buddhist minority. A 70-year-old woman died during the attacks. The arson followed the killing of a local Muslim resident. In November a mob, angered by a Facebook post reportedly demeaning Islam, burned and vandalized approximately 30 houses belonging to Hindus in the northern district of Rangpur.
In meetings with government officials and in public statements, the U.S. Ambassador and other embassy representatives continued to speak out against acts of violence in the name of religion and encouraged the government to uphold the rights of minority religious groups and to foster a climate of tolerance. The Ambassador and other embassy staff met with local government officials, civil society members, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and religious leaders to continue to underscore the importance of religious tolerance and to explore the link between religion and violent extremism. The embassy provided humanitarian assistance to ethnic Rohingya, who are nearly all Muslim, fleeing Burma. The embassy also organized an exchange program on religious education in the U.S. The overarching objective of the program was to explore the role of religion and religious freedom in a multicultural society.