The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your URGENT intervention in the following situation in Bangladesh.
The Observatory has been informed with great concern about further acts of administrative and judicial harassment against the human rights non-governmental organisation Odhikar and its Secretary, Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, in a further attempt to sanction and silence their human rights activities .
According to the information received, on May 25, 2016, Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, also a member of OMCT General Assembly, was summoned to Bangladesh’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), where he was interrogated by ACC Deputy Director Jalal Uddin Ahammad regarding a complaint initiated by the ACC against Odhikar for alleged “money laundering”.
On May 22, 2016, Odhikar had received a notice from the ACC under sections 19 and 20 of the ACC Act 2004, requesting Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan to appear before Mr. Jalal Uddin Ahammad over allegations of “money laundering”. The notice, dated May 18, 2016, referred to 97’000 EUR that were transferred to Odhikar’s bank account by the European Union (EU) in July 2013, in the framework of a EU-sponsored project called “Education on the Convention against Torture and OPCAT Awareness Programme in Bangladesh”, run by Odhikar and approved by the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) of the Government of Bangladesh.
During the meeting with Mr. Jalal Uddin Ahammad, Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan categorically denied the allegations of money laundering against Odhikar, and submitted documents proving that the funds referred to by the ACC had been transferred and handled in accordance with the law .
In July 2013, 97,501.07 EUR were credited to Odhikar’s bank account as the instalment for the second year of its EU-sponsored project, with the permission of NGOAB. However, after Odhikar made some initial withdrawals to implement the project activities, the NGOAB revoked its approval for the project, and the remaining amount in Odhikar’s account was frozen, preventing Odhikar from fully implementing the project activities.
Mr. Jalal Uddin Ahammad requested Mr. Khan to also submit a bank statement of Odhikar’s account where the remainder of the EU money is frozen, as well as the audit report of the EU funded project. The ACC Deputy Director stated that the submission of these documents would result in a “quick resolution” of this matter, despite the fact that these documents had already been submitted by Odhikar to the NGOAB.
The Observatory recalls that although the ACC has been investigating this matter since 2013, neither Odhikar nor Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan have received any copy of the letter of allegation outlining the grounds for the investigation.
The Observatory strongly condemns these new and baseless acts of administrative and judicial harassment against Odhikar and Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, which take place in an already repressive context for civil society in Bangladesh.
The Observatory calls on the European Union, and the international community in general, to intervene on Odhikar’s behalf in this matter. More generally, the international community must urge the authorities of Bangladesh to take concrete steps to end the harassment against human rights defenders in the country, including by repealing or amending repressive laws affecting their work such as the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Bill 2015 .
Odhikar has been under extreme pressure since August 2013, when the authorities arrested Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan on trumped up charges in relation to a fact-finding report issued by Odhikar on the killing of civilians by security forces in May 2013.
Since then, attacks and harassment against Odhikar have been ongoing, including judicial harassment against both Mr. Khan and Mr. Nasiruddin Elan, Odhikar Director, as well as the surveillance and repression of Odhikar, its staff, and their relatives.
Odhikar is also facing great difficulties to implement its activities, since all of its bank accounts have been frozen and it has been forbidden from receiving foreign funding.
In addition, on August 2, 2015, the Media and Public Relations wing of the Police Headquarters in Dhaka issued a statement condemning newspaper reports on extrajudicial killings, which cited Odhikar and BAMAK, another NGO. The Press Release, which was entitled "Police did not commit extrajudicial killings. Statements of Odhikar and BAMAK are unlawful; only subversive campaigns", declared that the statements made by the two organisations “contravene the existing laws of Bangladesh, which is synonymous to challenging Rule of Law and the judicial system”. The Police Press Release further stated that questioning the activities of the police threatens the reputation of the police and amounts to defamation and a criminal act, and may be considered as a subversive activity .
Please write to the authorities in Bangladesh, urging them to:
i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, all Odhikar members, their relatives as well as of all human rights defenders in Bangladesh;
ii. Put an end to any kind of harassment - including at the administrative and judicial level - against Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, all members of Odhikar, their relatives as well as all human rights defenders in Bangladesh;
iii. Ensure in all circumstances that Odhikar as well as all human rights defenders in Bangladesh are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
iv. Withdraw the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Bill 2015;
v. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Articles 1 and 12.2;
vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bangladesh.
· Ms. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Fax: +880 2 8113243, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Professor Dr. Gowher Rizvi, Adviser to the Prime Minister (International Affairs), Bangladesh. Fax: +880 2 9111312 Email: email@example.com
· Mr. Asaduzzaman Khan, State Minister for Home Affairs of Bangladesh. Fax: +880 2 9515541. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr. Anisul Huq, Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs of Bangladesh. Fax: +880 2 7168557. Email: email@example.com
· Md. Shahriar Alam, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh. Fax: +880 2 9562188. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr. Mahbubey Alam, Attorney General for Bangladesh, Email: email@example.com
· H.E. Mr. Abdul Hannan, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 738 46 16, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Embassy of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 2 646 59 98; Email: email@example.com
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Bangladesh in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Bangladesh.