BANGLADESH: Leading human rights defenders charged and main human rights organisation facing crackdown

Urgent Appeal

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, condemn the charges against the Secretary and Director of prominent human rights non-governmental organisation Odhikar, and urge the authorities of Bangladesh to put an immediate end to the harassment against the NGO and its members.

Today, Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, Secretary of Odhikar and a member of OMCT General Assembly, was brought to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM) Court at 9:30am, and kept in the court custody lock-up till 2pm. Yet, and despite his lawyers’ insistence, he was not presented before the Magistrate. At 2pm, Mr. Khan was taken back to Kashimpur jail, located three hours away from Dhaka, with no news from the court.

Later in the afternoon, his family and Odhikar learnt from the electronic media, including Somoy TV, the Daily Star, Prothom Alo and ATN Bangla TV, that the Detective Branch of Police held a press conference today, during which they announced they had filed a chargesheet against Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan as well as against Odhikar’s Director ASM Nasiruddin Elan for "œdistorting images by using photo shop and publishing a fabricated report, which enraged public sentiment" , under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, in relation to the 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. Reportedly, the police submitted an application for issuing a warrant of arrest against Mr. Nasiruddin Elan.

The Observatory recalls that Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan was arrested on August 10, 2013, and transferred to Kashimpur jail number 1 on August 13. While his lawyers’ application for "œdivision" in jail was initially rejected, on September 2, 2013, the High Court Division of the Supreme Court ordered that Mr. Khan be given division in prison and issued a show cause notice to the Government to explain why they had not granted Mr. Khan division. As per Chapter 35 of the Jail Code, Mr. Khan should now be entitled to his own cell, a bed, and the privileges of using writing material and having a separate light, a chair and table.

On August 25, 2013, a bail application on behalf of Mr. Khan was filed in the Metropolitan Sessions Court, and the date for hearing has been set to September 9, 2013. Moreover, he will be formally charged in court on September 12, when the date for a trial will be given.

"The charges against Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan and the crackdown on the leading human rights organisation in the country is a down-point for the rule of law in Bangladesh", said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock commenting on the news. "Nobody should be naïve. We are seeing a true crackdown on human rights in the country. It can only be hoped that the judiciary asserts its independence, rejects the charges and the right to bail and reasserts the rule of law in the country".

"We further reiterate our call to the President of Bangladesh not to promulgate the ICT (Amendment) Act, 2013 which was approved recently by the Cabinet as it seems to specifically target Odhikar members and might lead to further arrests and harassment of human rights defenders in the country", said Karim Lahidji, President of FIDH.

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