BANGLADESH: Information and Communication Technology (Amendment) Act likely to silence further human rights defenders!

Urgent Appeal
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Geneva-Paris, August 26, 2013. The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, urge the President of Bangladesh not to promulgate the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) (Amendment) Act, 2013 Ordinance as it might lead to further arrests and harassment of human rights defenders.

On August 19, 2013, the Cabinet of Bangladesh, chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, passed in a hurry and approved the proposed draft of the Information and Communication Technology - ICT (Amendment) Act, 2013, although the Parliament is scheduled to be in session in September 2013[1].

Should this new text enter into force, the highest punishment for offences covered by the law would reportedly be increased from 10 years under the existing Act to 14 years under the amended Act. In addition, the offences would be considered as non-eligible for bail. Moreover, while under the existing ICT Act, 2006, provisions were non-cognisable and law enforcers were not allowed to arrest anyone without prior approval from an authority or court, the ICT (Amendment) Act, 2013 would consider some of the offences as cognisable. As a consequence, law enforcers would have the power to arrest anyone accused of violating the law without a warrant, by invoking Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The Observatory is all the more concerned that those amendments take place in the context of the arrest on August 10, 2013 of Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, Secretary of the human rights non-governmental organisation Odhikar and a member of OMCT General Assembly, under Section 57 of the ICT Act 2006, for “publishing false images and information” and “disrupting the law and order situation of the country”. Mr. Khan was arrested in relation to a fact-finding report issued by Odhikar about the killing of 61 people during an operation carried out on May 5-6, 2013 by law enforcement agencies against Hefazat-e Islam activists at the Dhaka’s downtown Motijheel area. As of August 23, 2013, Mr. Khan remained detained in Kashimpur Jail number 1, on the outskirts of Dhaka, where he was transferred on August 13, 2013.

“The new law seems to specifically target human rights defender Adil Rahman Khan and other members of Odhikar”, said Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of OMCT. “There is no justification of changing an already doubtful law, adding ex post facto new provisions that prevent bail and all this in a de facto emergency procedure”, he added.

"We urge the President of Bangladesh not to promulgate the ICT (Amendment) Act, 2013 as it might lead to further arrests and harassment of human rights defenders and therefore shrinking even more the space of civil society in the country”, said Karim Lahidji, President of FIDH.

The Observatory reiterates its deepest concern about Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan’s arbitrary detention, which seems to merely aim at sanctioning his peaceful human rights activities, and calls upon the authorities in Bangladesh to guarantee in all circumstances his physical and psychological integrity as well as to release him immediately and unconditionally.

The Observatory also considers that rather than prosecuting human rights defenders criticising the State security services, it should assume its responsibility as a matter of urgency and appoint an independent judicial inquiry into the alleged killings following the operation carried out on May 5-6, 2013 during the Hefazat-e Islam rally in Motijheel.

More generally, the Observatory urges the authorities in Bangladesh to put an end to any kind of harassment against all human rights defenders in Bangladesh as well as to conform with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and to ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bangladesh.

For more information, please contact:
· OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: +41 22 809 49 39
· FIDH: Audrey Couprie: +33 1 43 55 25 18

[1] Article 93 of the Constitution provides that a text can be promulgated as an Ordinance by the President of Bangladesh when the “Parliament (...) is not in session”, and “when immediate action is necessary”. Article 93 also adds that an Ordinance shall nonetheless “be laid before Parliament at its first meeting following the promulgation”.

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