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Roundtable on freedom of religion in Bangladesh held at UK Parliament

British MPs and Peers participated in a high-level roundtable on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Bangladesh in the UK Parliament on Wednesday.

The event in the Thatcher Room at Portcullis House took place under the auspices of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Bangladesh Study Circle London.

Speakers include Dr Gowher Rizvi, International Affairs Advisor to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and Aroma Dutta MP, an academic specialising on religious freedom and human rights.

While speakers underlined the secular aspiration of Bangladesh’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the efforts undertaken by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to protect minorities, they acknowledged that this harmony was threatened by the efforts of some Islamist groups in the country to stoke communalist tensions and that there was a need to remain vigilant.

Attendees include the UK Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Fiona Bruce MP, Shadow Minister for the Indo-Pacific, Catherine West MP, Conservative MP Saqib Bhatti and Labour MP Sir Stephen Timms.

The Lord Mendelsohn and the Scottish National Party’s Lisa Cameron were represented by members of their offices. Senior representatives from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Bangladesh High Commission in London and Church of England were also present in the roundtable.

Aroma Dutta MP, an academic specialising on religious freedom and human rights, outlined that “Bangladesh has a unique composition of religions”. While she acknowledged that “there are some incidences [of religious conflict]”, she argued that, “They are politically instigated and used as a political tool and weapon” by Islamist groups to assert Islamic supremacy and incite against the Government. But she overall upbeat about the picture and noted that “There are no problems between religious minorities. We’re in harmony”.

Dr Gowher Rizvi, International Affairs Advisor to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, said in Bengali culture, “Distinction between religions doesn’t exist. We all come from the same stock-culturally and linguistically. There are no laws that inhibit religious freedom and persecution of religious minorities does not exist in Bangladesh. We are all the same-in peaceful coexistence.”

Baroness Verma, who chaired the event on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group, said, “I have visited Bangladesh both as an election observer and later as a Government Minister. The real potential of Bangladesh is still a story largely untold. It was very interesting to hear about the work taking place to ensure proper freedoms and rights for all, economic potential and government transparency.”

Syed Mozammel Ali, Chair of the Bangladesh Study Circle London, said, “In a region afflicted by communalist tensions, Bangladesh stands apart as a beacon of religious freedom. We were delighted to share this record in the UK Parliament today, and hope to invite British MPs and peers to visit Bangladesh later this year, to see this cohesion success story for them.”