By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
DHAKA, BANGLADESH (BosNewsLife)– A devoted Christian family in Bangladesh faces years of imprisonment on “false” charges of human trafficking, their church said Thursday, December 6.
Islamists reportedly sued the six-member family in the capital Dhaka for allegedly abducting and selling their 14-year-old Muslim house maid, though the Christians denied wrongdoing.
“The mother of maid Mitu, who cooperates with the Islamic criminal group, has blackmailed the family. She says she will withdraw the court case only if they pay 1 million taka ($12,330),” added Mark Huda Junayed, a member of the family’s ‘Mirpur Assemblies of God Church’.
BosNewsLife wasn’t able to reach Mitu’s relatives for comment.
The alleged blackmail came ahead of a scheduled court appearance on December 13 in the city of Khulna, 135 kilometers (84 miles) south west of Dhaka, where Mitu’s mother lives.
There is concern that each of the Christians may each face up to 14 years imprisonment, Junayed told BosNewsLife in an interview.
The six Christian suspects were identified as married couple Mark Rupayan, 36, and Lovely, 30, and their relatives Michel, 50, Jamuna, 45, Mithul, 25 and Richard Mondol, 20.
They were released following an October 20 pre-trial hearing on bail of roughly $1500 in local currency, according to trial observers.
Junayed, a former Muslim, said it was part of a wider crackdown by Islamists on minority Christians, who comprise less than 1 percent of the country’s mainly Muslim population of over 150 million people.
That view is shared by Open Doors, an advocacy group supporting Christians in the impoverished Asian nation.
It said earlier that local authorities and Muslims are known to have disturbed church meetings and putting believers under pressure.
“There are also reports of Christians being physically harmed and homes, or meeting places, attacked,” Open Doors said.
Junayed, who himself faced persecution for becoming a Christian, told BosNewsLife he was therefore concerned about the fairness of the trial against the Christian family.
“In this case it seems Christians are even punished for employing a Muslim girl who brought the couple’s little girl to school and worked in the house,” he said.
“The girl suddenly disappeared and we believe she may have been sold by her mother and the Islamists in the area.”
It comes amid international concerns about trafficking of girls in Bangladesh.
Sold for as little as 20,000 taka ($246) by their poor, rural families to traffickers, many girls are traded on to brothel ‘sardarnis’, who are former prostitutes themselves and keep the teenagers in bonded sex work, investigators say.