Bangladesh: Quash conviction and release rights defenders


September 14, 2023 - The undersigned human rights organisations, including the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, call on Bangladesh authorities to immediately release human rights defenders Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, quash their convictions, and end all reprisals against them for their legitimate human rights work. Khan and Elan were sentenced by the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka to two years’ of prison and a 10,000 Bangladeshi Taka fine each in retaliation for their work documenting human rights violations in Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh Government has persistently targeted and launched a smear campaign against Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, the secretary and director, respectively, of prominent Bangladeshi human rights organization Odhikar. Following the 2013 publication of Odhikar’s fact-finding report documenting extrajudicial killings during a protest, both defenders were arbitrarily detained – Khan for 62 and Elan for 25 days. After being released on bail, they continued to face prosecution and judicial harassment on trumped-up allegations that their 2013 report was “fake, distorted, and defamatory.”

After years of stalling, Bangladeshi judicial authorities accelerated the hearings in their case following the designation of US sanctions against the country’s notoriously abusive paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and its officials in December 2021, blaming human rights organizations like Odhikar for this outcome. Their case has been marred with due process violations, such as the failure to provide the defense with advance information on the prosecution witnesses or a copy of the Criminal Investigation Department’s further investigation report until the day before a hearing.

In addition to targeting Odhikar’s leaders, the Government interfered with the organization’s ability to conduct its human rights work by blocking their access to funds and leaving its registration renewal application pending since 2014. Following the US sanction designations, the Government increased surveillance and harassment against those affiliated with Odhikar and ordered the organization to provide sources and proof for its findings of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. On June 5, 2022, the Government’s NGO Affairs Bureau officially denied Odhikar’s application for renewal, stating that the organization’s publications have “seriously tarnished the image of the state to the world.”

The Government then continued to besmirch the organization publicly, even criticizing and questioning the credibility of the US Department of State’s 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices: Bangladesh for relying on Odhikar’s documentation. UN human rights experts have expressed their concerns over the Government’s actions, stating that “the defamation of Bangladeshi-based human rights organisations by high-profile public figures is a clear attempt to undermine their credibility, reputation and human rights work in the country.”

Human rights defenders should be allowed to conduct their necessary and important work without fear of harassment, intimidation, and reprisals. Instead of prosecuting and punishing those who document and expose human rights violations, the Government should investigate and hold the perpetrators of these violations accountable.

We stand with Khan and Elan and urge the authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally, as they have been detained solely for their human rights work. The authorities should reverse their convictions, and ensure they are able to continue their human rights documenting and reporting without fear of reprisals.

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  • Co-signatories

     Advocacy Forum Nepal
     Amnesty International
     Anti-Death Penalty Asian Network (ADPAN)
     Asia Alliance Against Torture (A3T)
     Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
     Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
     Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
     Association of Family Members of the Disappeared, Sri Lanka
     Asociacion Pro Busqueda de Ninas y Ninos Desaparecidos, El Salvador
     BALAOD Mindanaw
     Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)
     Belarusian Solidarity Foundation
     Bir Duino, Kyrgyzstan
     Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
     Capital Punishment Justice Project, Australia
     Centre for the Sustainable use of Natural and Social Resources (CSNR), Bhubaneswar, India
     Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR)
     CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
     Civil society and Human Rights Network (CSHRN)
     Collectifs des Familles de Disparus en Algérie
     Defence for Human Rights Pakistan (DHR)
     Desaparecidos - Philippines
     Eleos Justice, Monash University, Australia
     Euro-Mediterranean Federation Against Enforced Disappearances (FEMED), France
     Families of the Disappeared (FOD), Sri Lanka
     Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND)
     FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
     Forum ONG Timor-leste
     Free Jonas Burgos Movement
     HAK Association, Timor-leste
     Human Rights Alert, Manipur, India
     Human Rights First
     Human Rights Hub, Sri Lanka
     Human Rights Watch
     Indonesian Association of Families of the Disappeared Families (IKOHI)
     Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI - Indonesia)
     Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI)
     Indonesia’s NGO Coalition for International Human Rights Advocacy (HRWG)
     INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, Sri Lanka
     Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) - Indonesia
     International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED)
     International Federation of ACATs (FIACAT)
     International Legal Initiative (ILI) - Kazakhstan
     International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
     JAAWABODA KENDRAYA (J. K.), Sri Lanka
     Karapatan Alliance Philippines (KARAPATAN)
     Karnali Integrated Rural Development And research Centre ( KIRDARC ) Nepal
     Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees (FEDEFAM)
     Legal Literacy - Nepal
     Liga Guatemalteca de Higiene Mental
     Madres de Plaza de Mayo - Linea Fundadora, Argentina
     Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)
     Martin Ennals Foundation
     National Fisheries Solidarity Organization, Sri Lanka
     Negombo Citizens’ Committee (N.C.C.)
     Nonviolence International Canada
     Pakistan Development Alliance
     People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD)
     Programme against custodial torture & Impunity (PACTI)
     Public Association “Dignity”, Kazakhstan, Astana
     Pusat KOMAS, Malaysia
     Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
     Sindhi Foundation
     Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
     The Awakening, Pakistan
     The Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS)
     The Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (IMPARSIAL)
     Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, Washington DC
     We Remember-Belarus
     Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC)
     World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

  • Member organisations - Bangladesh

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