By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
DHAKA, BANGLADESH (BosNewsLife)-- A young Christian evangelist says he has fled Bangladesh after Islamic militants threatened to kill him for converting to Christianity.
Mark Huda Junayed Fino, 23, confirmed to BosNewsLife Saturday, March 26, that he is outside the country and studying at a Bible college in a somewhat more "safe Asian nation", though security concerns remain.
In a letter seen by BosNewsLife, the Bangladesh branch of the outlawed Islamic militant group Harkat-ul Jihad Islami threatens Fino with death if he remains a believer in Jesus Christ.
"You have become converted to Christianity by giving up the religion of Islam, which is a great crime according to Shariah [Muslim law] and an offence punishable by death", says the letter purportedly sent by Harkat-ul Jihad Bangladesh.
Fino, a former Muslim, is being told that "you are given [an] opportunity of 14 days for voluntarily embracing the religion of Islam". Otherwise, "you yourself will remain responsible for your immature death."
The commander, whose name was difficult to see, writes that he and his militants receive "virtue" by "killing one who rejects Islam and a Jew." Fino is afraid to inform police as the letter says: "If you inform police then the angle of death will arrive before you on the very date and your death is certain." He added he was sure that many policemen are Muslims and share their views.
Fino says he has been rejected by his Muslim father who allegedly send him text messages. They include a picture of a topless woman on the Viber mobile phone service accompanied by harsh words about his late mother who committed suicide: "Your mother was such as this prostitute, so you are a bastard."
He forgave him saying he hopes his father will "one day become a believer in Jesus Christ". The threats against the evangelist come amid international concerns about Islamic extremism in the country.
"There are 'fatwas'", or Islamic rulings, "implemented all over the country, especially in rural areas, and there are demands to introduce Sharia" or Islamic law, "to show that the country belongs to the “House of Islam,” said well-informed advocacy and aid group Open Doors in a recent assessment.
Fino says he has been escaping prosecution on several occasions in heavily Islamic Bangladesh where he has been involved in evangelism.
BosNewsLife reported in 2012 that he had been detained by his Muslim family after they discovered he had become a Christian. "In the end of 2010 I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in my mind and I was baptized the next year. My family found out that I went to church. I declared my decision to follow Christ to them, and after that I started to face huge persecution," Fino recalled.
He was even forced to marry a Muslim woman, and pressured to return to Islam. Fino eventually fled after appearing in front of a Dhaka court for allegedly mistreating his wife, charges he strongly denies.
Under the country's civil laws he was a minor at the time as the legal age of consent and minimum age for marriage is 21 for men and 18 for women. U.S investigators and rights activists say many minors are victims of forced marriages as Bangladesh does not have a clear law banning these relationships.
Fino realizes he isn't alone in facing persecution. "I want to show the world how a born-again Christian suffers in a Muslim country."
Open Doors says that although the constitution of Bangladesh includes freedom of religion, "the constitution also confirms that the state religion is Islam, and the government is known to give in to Islamic pressure."
Christians comprise roughly one percent of the country's nearly 170-million people, but that number increases, according to Open Doors investigators. "As the Christian minority is growing, it faces more and more restrictions and challenges. This pressure is not driven by the government, but by radical Islamic groups, local religious leaders and families."
The killing by Islamic militants of four secular bloggers, an Italian and a Japanese citizen and, most recently, a secular publisher in October 2015 has prompted the government of President Abdul Hamid "to declare war" against radical elements, Open Doors noted.
Yet Fino doesn't know when and if he can return to the country to continue his evangelism work. "I may have to ask asylum in the Philippines or Thailand after my Bible study." BosNewsLife agreed not to mention more details about his current exact whereabouts for security reasons. The evangelist, who has been supported by Christians, is worried about possible terror threats in his impoverished nation.
Last month, a Bangladesh court upheld the death sentences for three members of Harkat-ul Jihad Islami in connection with a grenade attack on the British ambassador in 2004.
They were sentenced to death in 2008 for the attack in which three people were killed and about 50, including the then British high commissioner, Anwar Choudhury, were wounded.
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