Head of minority faith party missing in Bangladesh

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The head of a new political party representing minority faith communities in mainly Muslim Bangladesh has gone missing, his wife said Thursday, amid concern over the extrajudicial detention of opposition figures. Sumona Chowdhury said her husband Mithun was picked up by men in civilian clothes outside a Hindu temple in Dhaka Saturday night along with the head of his party’s youth wing.

“The law enforcement authorities were behind this. They led them into a black car,” she said on phone from the northeastern city of Sylhet. Sumona said the police told her Mithun was detained by counter-terrorism officers. Police officers contacted said they were looking into her complaint but did not confirm if he had been arrested.

“We are deeply concerned. I need to know whether he is alive,” she said. Mithun Chowdhury, 42, launched the Bangladesh Janata Party earlier this year to represent non-Muslims in Bangladesh, which is home to small numbers of Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and tribal communities that practice other faiths. Chowdhury, a Hindu, was trying to mobilize support ahead of the general elections expected next year.

Opposition parties accuse Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government of arresting tens of thousands of their supporters and activists since 2014, when they boycotted a controversial general election over fears it would be rigged.

The government has also been accused of enforced disappearances where authorities detain people unofficially and hold them in secret jails. Religious minorities, 10 percent of the Bangladesh’s 160 million people, have been targets of communal violence in the past.

The country is also fighting homegrown Islamist extremists, blamed by the government for attacks against minority groups. Thousands of Hindus have left Bangladesh for neighboring India in recent decades, fleeing violence and land grabs, Hindu groups say.

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