A Catholic priest who went missing in Bangladesh days ahead of a visit by Pope Francis has been found alive, but there is still confusion over the circumstances of his disappearance.
Father Walter William Rozario, 41, is said by his family to have escaped from his captors and called his brother from a bus stop in the north-eastern city of Sylhet, 400km from his home.
Family members said abductors demanded a ransom of 300,000 taka (US$3,600), but police at a press conference on Saturday (2 December) accused the priest of being “mentally unstable” and of staging his own kidnapping.
The police said Rozario was “OK” when they rescued him, and that they have CCTV footage showing him booking into hotels and riding his own motorbike during his absence.
“We demand a proper investigation regarding this issue. If it is not properly investigated and the truth is not revealed, a similar incident will take place again and again.”
However, Nirmol Rozario, President of the Bangladesh Christian Association, told World Watch Monitor: “We are not clear about what the police is saying about Father William. Why would he be frustrated [and so choose to disappear]? He is a priest and a headmaster of a school.
“We demand a proper investigation regarding this issue. If it is not properly investigated and the truth is not revealed, a similar incident will take place again and again. Because a similar kidnap incident of another priest happened around one and a half months ago. That priest, Father Shishir Nathanial Rozario, managed to escape the kidnappers. A kidnap case was filled and the perpetrators were arrested.”
A local source told Catholic news agency Fides the police’s comments were “a symptom of widespread corruption” in the country and an attempt to “cover the responsibilities of the State”.
Rozario, who was held in custody over the weekend, has now been released without charge and is staying in the residence of the Bishop of Rajshahi. He is reported to be traumatised and having difficulty speaking.
Police had been investigating whether Islamists had been involved in the abduction of the priest, who went missing on his way home from Bonpara in western Bangladesh, the village where a Catholic shopkeeper was hacked to death in June. The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the murder, though the government continues to deny the group has a presence in the country.
During his visit to Bangladesh, where Catholics make up only 0.2 per cent of the Muslim-majority population, Pope Francis praised the country as “a role model of inter-religious harmony”.