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Recently, authorities in Gazipur district cancelled, without any prior notice, the permission for holding the 87th Annual Convention of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at, Bangladesh -- a Muslim religious sect, having conflicting identity with the majority Muslims.

The annual convention of the community was scheduled for February 6 to 8. Police evacuated Ahamadiyas from the venue, while the Deputy Commissioner of the district imposed a ban on any public gathering at the venue, although the community had paid all necessary fees following due procedure. The government has failed to protect the right to freedom of religion and assembly of the community.

For organizing the event, the community leaders sought permission from the local administration, and the Office of the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Gazipur district issued a letter on 24 January, granting permission for the proposed 3-day convention at the venue. The community made the necessary payments to the authorities in advance for holding the event.

On 5 February, the senior leaders of the community met the DC Md. Kamal Uddin Talukder and the Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) of Joydevpur Circle Mr. Nuruzzaman of the Gazipur district in person and presented them each with the Holy Qura'an. At that time the officials gave no indication of any fear of the deterioration of the law and order or objection of the local
inhabitants.

By 6 February morning, the first day of the convention, around eight thousand Ahmadiyya devotees arrived at the venue, while another three thousand were on the way to join within a few hours.

The source told the Srilanka Guardian that at around 10am, ASP Mr. Zaman came with a force to the venue, and asked them to leave the place immediately, saying that the Office of the DC of Gazipur cancelled permission. They imposed Section 144 (of the Code of Criminal Procedure-1898) following "objection from the local people" to the event. Police, behaving very rudely, switched off the sound system as the ceremony was ongoing.

While assembled elders of the community with the police about the sudden cancellation, Mr. Motahar Ahamed Chowdhury, an executive committee member of the Ahmadiyya community, called the District Commissioner, who confirmed that he cancelled the permission, saying that he was "surrounded" by Moulanas to cancel the permission.

A delegation of the Ahmadiyya community communicated with the top-level decision-makers of the government, and influential authorities suggested the delegation to "fix another date", offering no help the community to hold the event as scheduled. The community had no alternative but to postpone their most important religious event.

When the Ahmadiyya community leaders insisted on providing official proof regarding cancellation of their programme, the Gazipur district administration gave two official circulars at around 5pm on 6 February. Signed by the DC of Gazipur district Mr. Md. Kamal Uddin Talukder, who is the ex-officio District Magistrate, he said, at 12 noon on 6 February, he cancelled the permit by the power bestowed upon him according to Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure-1898. Mr. Talukder claims that "due to the fear of deterioration of the law and order in the area -- all movement, entry, activities against the law and order was ordered banned until further notice". It also cited that "any person except a member of the law-enforcing agent violates the order shall be liable to punishment under Section 188 of the Penal Code" (of 1860).

The head of the convention's organizing committee, Mir Mobassher Ali, claimed in a written statement that the community followed due process to organise their annual convention. As a "nonpolitical and peace-loving community", they selected an isolated, less-populated place as their venue, inaccessible to outsiders, so as to hold comprehensive discussions on their religious norms, standards and feelings among assembled members. The local people, including a Member of Parliament and other local government bodies, were cooperating with them. The atmosphere was absolutely calm on the eve of the convention. Mir Mobassher alleged that the Gazipur district administration cancelled the permission without any reasonable ground or visible symptom of troubles, contrary to the claim for the cancelation that there was "fear of deterioration of the law and order in the area".

Leaders of the community alleges that "the local administration surrendered to a segment of the fundamentalists" -- denying them their constitutionally enshrined right. They claim that around fifty persons chanted slogans demanding the cancellation of the convention (Ahmadiyya) while five Mollahs met the DC, who readily impose Section 144 (of the Code of Criminal Procedure-1898) to ban the event.

Human rights activist Shahed Kayes, the executive Director of Subornogram said the Freedom of religion is protected as one of the fundamental rights of the citizens in the Constitution of Bangladesh. Article 41 (1) enshrines freedom of religion, as it reads:

"Subject to law, public order and morality-

(a) every citizen has the right to profess, practice or propagate any religion; (b) every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions."

He added:

Article 28 (1) of the Constitution of Bangladesh reads: "The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race caste, sex or place of birth".

Other human rights and civil liberties activists condemned the cancelation of the convention.

The failure of the decision-making authorities of the government to ensure necessary security arrangements to allow the Ahmadiyya community to hold its pre-scheduled programme represents the mindset of the government regarding freedom of the minority religious communities in the country.