Bangladesh: threats and harassment of Ms. Shampa Goswami

13/09/2012
Urgent Appeal

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Bangladesh.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the reprisals against Ms. Shampa Goswami, a staff member of the NGO Odhikar working on violence against women. She is among the most active human rights defenders at the local level working with Odhikar. She has been instrumental in creating awareness about incidents of violence against women and mobilizing local women in the area.

According to the information received, on September 10, 2012, Ms. Goswami was suspended from her job as a teacher in Mozahar Memorial Secondary School at Kaligonj in the district of Satkhira, Khulna Division.

In May 2011, Ms. Goswami paid several visits to an elderly woman in hospital victim of a gang rape, and advised her to file a complaint to the police. After four men were arrested for the gang rape several days later, a man living near Ms Goswami’s home called on her and contended that since she was working for human rights she should intervene and get the men released. The same man repeatedly pressed her, including through phone calls, to intervene on their behalf despite her ignoring him.

On October 23, 2011, Ms. Goswami was sexually harassed in front of a shop by four men. They were later joined by a group of a dozen men who directed her to follow them. When she refused, they threatened to hand her over to the police, and snatched her cell phone when she tried to call the police station herself. She was forced to follow them to a nearby building where one of her younger brother’s friend had already been taken. The men took pictures of both of them, verbally harassed and intimidated them, and threatened to send the pictures to the press if she did not give them money. Ms. Goswami informed them that she was a human rights defender working with Odhikar, which they disparaged.

On October 25, 2011, Ms. Goswami filed a complaint with Satkhira Police Station accusing ten men in relation to those acts. The First Information Report (FIR) accused them of the crimes of unlawful assembly, wrongful confinement, theft and criminal intimidation, under Sections 143, 342, 379, 506 of the Penal Code respectively. On November 2, 2011, some local human rights defenders formed a human chain in support of Ms. Goswami and submitted memorandums to the Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police in Satkhira district to protest the incident. Meanwhile, police submitted a charge sheet in the Court against the ten accused persons. After this incident, the accused and their families verbally abused Ms. Goswami.

In the meantime, the father of one of the ten men accused in the complaint filed by Ms. Goswami, and Mr. Abdul Hamid, a member of the School Management Committee, attempted to pressure Ms. Goswami into withdrawing the complaint. Instead, she registered a complaint in the police log book (General Diary) with Kaligang Police Station on March 24, 2012. As a result, Mr. Abdul Hamid and four of his associates threatened to suspend Ms. Goswami from her job, distorted photos of her by replacing her head with that of an unknown man, and circulated the picture via phones and through the Internet. After Ms. Goswami lodged another General Diary on June 28, 2012 to protest those actions, the police arrested Mr. Abdul Hamid and one of his associates. Both were subsequently released on bail. No information was provided to the Observatory regarding the status of this complaint.

On August 30, 2012, the school head teacher, Mr. Lutfar Rahman, sent a letter to Ms. Goswami alleging “anti-social and unethical activities”. Ms. Goswami responded to the letter on September 4, 2012.

The Observatory condemns the harassment and threats against Ms. Goswami and urges the judicial authorities to take the required legal actions. Moreover, it deplores Ms. Goswami’s suspension from her job and requests the school authorities to reinstate her in her position and ensure her safety.

Actions requested:

Please write to the Bangladeshi authorities urging them to:

i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Goswami and of all human rights defenders in Bangladesh;

ii. Order an immediate, thorough, effective and impartial investigation into the wrongful confinement, theft and intimidation of Ms. Goswami and apply the penal sanctions provided by the law to those held responsible for those acts;

iii. Immediately and unconditionally reinstate Ms. Goswami in her former position as a teacher;

iv. Put an end to all acts of harassment against all human rights defenders in Bangladesh, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their work without hindrances;

v. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular:
- its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,
- its Article 9.1, which states that “in the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the promotion and protection of human rights as referred to in the present Declaration, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to benefit from an effective remedy and to be protected in the event of the violation of those rights”,
- Article 12.1, which foresees that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”,
- and its Article 12.2 which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

i. Guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments ratified by Bangladesh.

Addresses:

· Ms. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister, Gona Bhaban, Old Sangsad Bhaban, Tejgaon, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Fax: +880 2 8113243, Email: info@pmo.gov.bd
· Ms. Sahara Khatun, Minister for Home Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, Bangladesh Secretariat Building 4, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Email: mediacell@homemin-bd.org minister@mha.gov.bd;
· Barrister Qamrul Islam, Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Bangladesh Secretariat, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Email: info@minlaw.gov.bd
· Mr. Hasan Mahmud Khandaker, Inspector General of Police, Police Headquarters, Phoenix Road, Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh, Email : ig@police.gov.bd
· Ambassador Mr. Abdul Hannan, Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to the United Nations in Geneva, 65 rue de Lausanne, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 738 46 16, E-mail: mission.bangladesh@ties.itu.int
· Mr. Ismat Jahan, Embassy of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in Brussels, 29-31 rue J. Jordaens, 1000 Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 2 646 59 98; Email: bdootbrussels@freegates.be
· Mr. Nurul Islam Nahid, Education Minister, Building # 6, Floor # 17th & 18th, Bangladesh Secretariat, Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh, Fax: 88-02-7167577, email: info@moedu.gov.bd

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Bangladesh in your respective countries.

***

Paris-Geneva, September 13, 2012

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· Email: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / (01) 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39 / 41 22 809 49 29

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