by Dipen Barua
Ten years have passed since the notorious night of brutal communal attacks on Buddhists living in the village of Ramu in the Cox’s Bazar District of southeastern Bangladesh. However, in the intervening years, no significant progress has been made toward prosecuting the perpetrators, and the victims of this barbaric violence are still deprived of justice.
“The incident took place 10 years ago, but the trial has not been completed. It is unfortunate for us,” said Pragyananda Bhikkhu, a Buddhist monk from Cox’s Bazar. “There is no progress and I think justice has been deliberately delayed by the state.” (UCA News)
On 29 September 2012, a group of extremists spread a rumor that a Buddhist youth named Uttam Kumar Barua from Ramu had posted a photo to Facebook deemed insulting to the Quran, the holy book of Islam. The extremists then launched a series of violent attacks on the local Buddhist community. A subsequent investigation by The Daily Star newspaper in Bangladesh revealed that the photo shared on Facebook was photoshopped. The report also indicated that Uttam Barua’s Facebook account may have been hacked in order to upload the manipulated image that served as the trigger for the violence.
Nineteen ancient Buddhist temples and 26 homes of Buddhists in Ramu were set on fire during the attacks, and other temples and homes were vandalized and looted. Violence also erupted in Patiya, in Chittagong District, with vandalism aimed at Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples.
Immediately after the incident, the government rebuilt the damaged buildings and houses. And on 3 September 2013, Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wazed, inaugurated several beautifully rebuilt Buddhist temples under government patronage.
Altogether, 19 legal cases were registered against more than 1,500 unidentified persons, including 378 charged. The police later filed charges against 1,020 people in 18 cases, with one case settled out of court.
The public prosecutor of the District and the Sessions Judge’s Court for Cox’s Bazar, Faridul Alam, explained that the legal cases were still pending since corroborating witnesses to the attacks, many of whom are neighbors of the victims, had failed to attend court to give evidence against the accused.
On 2–3 October 2012, Supreme Court lawyers Jyotirmoy Barua and Eunus Ali Akond separately filed two writ petitions seeking action against the attackers and against local administration officials, accusing them of being negligent in preventing the attacks. The inquiry report was submitted to a High Court bench headed by Justice Mirza Hossain Haider (now retired). The Chief Justice reconstituted the bench before he was elevated as an Appellate Division judge.
A judicial inquiry report that was submitted to the High Court on 16 May 2013 identified failures among the local administration, as well as intelligence and law enforcement agencies in preventing the attacks.
The investigation blamed 298 people linked to the attacks. High Court sources were cited as saying that the report proposed 20 recommendations, including improving local administrative efficiency, imposing social media restrictions, and nurturing a sense of patriotism among local residents.
Eunus Ali Akond told The Daily Star that the High Court bench had not held a hearing against his writ petition and therefore would not take any action.
To commemorate that terrible night of 29 September, local Buddhist organizations coordinate peace processions each year, while representatives from the local Buddhist community gather to demand justice.
“What is stopping the procedure right now?” The Daily Star asked in a recent editorial. “We demand justice for the Ramu victims and feel that there can be no reason for the cases to linger anymore.” (The Daily Star)
Justice still elusive for Ramu victims (The Daily Star)
Violence in Ramu: 10 yrs on, justice still pending (The Daily Star)
Bangladeshi Buddhists denied justice for a decade (UCA News)
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Ramu Tragedy – Bangladesh Government and World Media
“Buddhist Voices from the Land of Rivers:” Let Hope Rise from the Ashes
Marginalized and Ignored: The Corrosion of Bangladeshi Minority-Government Relations
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