By BosNewsLife Asia Service
DHAKA, BANGLADESH (BosNewsLife)– Bangladesh was to release Friday, April 1, a young evangelist who was sentenced to one year imprisonment for “creating chaos” by selling and distributing Christian books and other literature near a major Muslim gathering.
Trial observers said 25-year-old Biplob Marandi, a tribal Christian, was declared innocent by a court in Gazipur district reviewing the case.
It was unclear whether international publicity and pressure had also played a role in the March 29 decision.
In a statement, Marandi’s attorney, Lensen Swapon Gomes, said the outcome proves that he didnot create chaos at a religious gathering as prosecutors had charged.
Gomes said it was his impression that Muslim hardliners “harassed him” and handed the young man over to a local court as “they became angry” that he distributed Christian literature.
The attorney appealed the decision on grounds that his client’s religious activities were “protected by the religious freedom provisions of the Bangladesh constitution.”
Marandi was sentenced February 28 after being detained in January near a gathering of the massive ‘Bishwa Ijtema’, or World Muslim Congregation, on the banks of the Turag River near the town of Tongi.
Every year, several million Sufi Muslims take part in Bishwa Ijtema to pray and listen to Islamic theologians from around the world.
Bangladesh compares the annual event with the Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, commentators say.
Although his lawyer welcomed the court’s decision to free him, Marandi’s case has underscored international concerns about reported violence against Christians and other religious minorities in the heavily Islamic, impoverished, Asian nation.
In a recent report, the United States State Department said that “Although the government publicly supported freedom of religion, attacks on religious and ethnic minorities continued to be a problem during the reporting period.”
It added that religious minorities “are often at the bottom of the social hierarchy and, therefore, have the least political recourse.”
Christians comprise less than one percent of the population of some 160 million people, according to estimates by the United Sates Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely populated countries, with its people crammed into a delta of rivers that empties into the Bay of Bengal. Many are deeply poor with almost half the population living on less than one dollar a day, analysts say.