Bangladesh: Quash conviction and release rights defenders

Leaders of Prominent Rights Group Convicted on Trumped-Up Charges

(September 14, 2023) Bangladesh authorities should 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, said 72 organizations today. 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 Khan and 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.

Signed:

  1. Advocacy Forum Nepal
  2. Amnesty International
  3. Anti-Death Penalty Asian Network (ADPAN)
  4. Asia Alliance Against Torture (A3T)
  5. Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
  6. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  7. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
  8. Association of Family Members of the Disappeared, Sri Lanka
  9. Asociacion Pro Busqueda de Ninas y Ninos Desaparecidos, El Salvador
  10. AwazCDS-Pakistan
  11. BALAOD Mindanaw
  12. Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)
  13. Belarusian Solidarity Foundation
  14. Bir Duino, Kyrgyzstan
  15. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
  16. Capital Punishment Justice Project, Australia
  17. Centre for the Sustainable use of Natural and Social Resources (CSNR), Bhubaneswar, India
  18. Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR)
  19. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  20. Civil society and Human Rights Network (CSHRN)
  21. Collectifs des Familles de Disparus en Algérie
  22. Defence for Human Rights Pakistan (DHR)
  23. Desaparecidos – Philippines
  24. Eleos Justice, Monash University, Australia
  25. Euro-Mediterranean Federation Against Enforced Disappearances (FEMED), France
  26. Families of the Disappeared (FOD), Sri Lanka
  27. Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND)
  28. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  29. Forum ONG Timor-leste
  30. Free Jonas Burgos Movement
  31. HAK Association, Timor-leste
  32. Human Rights Alert, Manipur, India
  33. Human Rights First
  34. Human Rights Hub, Sri Lanka
  35. Human Rights Watch
  36. Indonesian Association of Families of the Disappeared Families (IKOHI)
  37. Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI – Indonesia)
  38. Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI)
  39. Indonesia’s NGO Coalition for International Human Rights Advocacy (HRWG)
  40. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, Sri Lanka
  41. Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) – Indonesia
  42. International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED)
  43. International Federation of ACATs (FIACAT)
  44. International Legal Initiative (ILI) – Kazakhstan
  45. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  46. JAAWABODA KENDRAYA (J. K.), Sri Lanka
  47. Karapatan Alliance Philippines (KARAPATAN)
  48. Karnali Integrated Rural Development And research Centre ( KIRDARC ) Nepal
  49. Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees (FEDEFAM)
  50. Legal Literacy – Nepal
  51. Liga Guatemalteca de Higiene Mental
  52. Madres de Plaza de Mayo – Linea Fundadora, Argentina
  53. Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)
  54. Martin Ennals Foundation
  55. National Fisheries Solidarity Organization, Sri Lanka
  56. Negombo Citizens’ Committee (N.C.C.)
  57. Nonviolence International Canada
  58. Pakistan Development Alliance
  59. People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD)
  60. Programme against custodial torture & Impunity (PACTI)
  61. Public Association “Dignity”, Kazakhstan, Astana
  62. Pusat KOMAS, Malaysia
  63. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  64. Sindhi Foundation
  65. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
  66. The Awakening, Pakistan
  67. The Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS)
  68. The Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (IMPARSIAL)
  69. Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, Washington DC
  70. We Remember-Belarus
  71. Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC)
  72. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
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