By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
DHAKA, BANGLADESH (BosNewsLife)– A young Christian evangelist who is being hunted by Islamic militants in his native Bangladesh and elsewhere in Asia has urged the world not to forget non-Muslim minorities in the region including the indigenous Jumma who face a new wave of “murders” and “torture.”
Mark Huda Junayed Fino, 25, told BosNewsLife that extremists targeting Jumma are among the more than 400,000 Rohingya refugees who have entered Bangladesh from neighboring Myanmar, also known as Burma.
The influx of refugees began on August 25 after Rohingya insurgents attacked about 30 police posts and an army camp, killing about 12 people. That prompted a Burmese military offensive the United Nations has branded “ethnic cleansing.”
However “as the mainly Muslim Rohingya started to enter Bangladesh, the minority Jumma experienced increased torture because many of them are Christians and Buddhists,” said Fino. “The Jummas are also among the groups with the fastest growing number of born-again Christians who converted from Buddhism,” he said. Fino added that with many “converting to Christ…it is very important to stand for them.”
The evangelist explained that he had become a volunteer fundraiser for a Jumma school in Rangamati, Bangladesh amid reports of killings and torture. “In recent days a husband and wife were among those slaughtered” by suspected members or followers of the militant Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army group, he stressed.
“Jiban Tripura, a 45-year-old native Buddhist, has been severely injured in an attack carried out by Muslim extremists,” Fino said.
Activists claim that at least tens of thousands of Jumma people. are also experiencing potential persecution by the Bangladesh military and Muslim settlers despite a peace settlement in 1997 following years of violence, including reported massacres of Jumma villagers and attacks against monasteries.
Pictures obtained by BosNewsLife appeared to show Jumma village homes being torched. “I can’t reveal my full name and information otherwise my family gets killed,” said the local source providing the footage to BosNewsLife.
Officially just over 1 percent of the country’s mainly Muslim population of 158-million belong to 27 minority groups such as the Jumma, but other sources say there are about 75 ethnic groups and claim the government underestimates the size of Bangladesh’s ethnic population.
Fino said he supports the troubled Jumma minority because he also faces persecution for his faith in Christ. “Muslim militants want to kill me, even the Bangladesh Army has turned against me,” the evangelist told BosNewsLife.
After fleeing Bangladesh, he was forced to leave a Bible school in the southern Philippines as Abu Sayyaf, one of the smallest and most violent jihadist groups in that area, became notorious for
kidnapping foreigners for ransom.
He recently requested asylum in a “first world country.” BosNewsLife agreed not to provide details amid security concerns as the asylum procedure is still ongoing.
Fino made headlines in 2012 when BosNewsLife reported that he had been detained by his Muslim family after they discovered he had become a Christian. “In late 2010 I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in my mind, and I was baptized the next year,” he said.
“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 immense 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 denies.
Under the country’s civil laws he was a minor at the time because the legal age of consent, and the 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 because Bangladesh does not have a clear law banning these relationships.
Fino told BosNewsLife he realizes he isn’t alone in facing persecution. “I want to show the world how a born-again Christian suffers in a Muslim country.”
The preacher is pleased that despite difficulties “more than 30 Christian Jumma students study in the school” he supports. “Many were Buddhists before but are turning to Christ.”