Fourteen Christians from India are stuck in a Bangladeshi prison weeks after completing a three-month sentence for unwittingly crossing the border while evangelizing.
They remain in the prison because the India’s authorities have not made arrangements for repatriation, adding to international skepticism about India’s committment to religious liberty and human rights.
“Their jail terms was finished on February 28,” Brig. Gen. Zakir Hasan, the Bangladeshi Inspector General of Prisons, told Compass Direct News. “We applied to our home ministry on February 9 about their repatriation to India.
“But so far, we did not get any information about their repatriation. If [India's] high commission does not take any initiative about their repatriation, they will be in jail sine die [indefinitely].”
Bangladeshi officials are willing to send the prisoners back to India, but cannot do so unless India’s high commission makes arrangements.
“If we release them without their high commission’s initiative, they will be caught again in Bangladeshi territory for not having any valid documents and passports,” Hasan said. “They will be put in jail for another crime.”
The Compass Direct News report explained the circumstances under which the 14 were jailed.
Roma neighborhood Sub-Inspector Babar Ali said Bangladeshi border patrols arrested the 14 evangelists on November 27 of last year, handed them over to local police the next day, and the Christians appeared in court on November 29.
“Those Christian people were actually preaching Christianity in that mountainous terrain,” said Ali. “They could not understand the demarcation line of the border between India and Bangladesh. In actual fact, there is no demarcation line of border there.”
Ali said the Christians had no illegal purpose for entering the country.
“Rather, they entered mistakenly while preaching their religion in predominantly tribal locality,” he said. “We investigated whether they were engaged in any illegal or criminal activities in Bangladeshi territory, but our investigation has drawn a blank. We did not find them involved in any criminal activities.”
Investigators found only Christian literature on them, Ali added.
India and Bangladesh share a 2,545-mile (4,095-kilometer) border that is largely unfenced. There are 111 Indian enclaves (locally known as Chits) in Bangladesh territory covering 17,258.24 acres, and there are 51 Bangladesh enclaves in Indian territory measuring 7,083.72 acres.