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Prominent Bangladeshi civil society activist and Secretary of Odhikar, Adilur Rahman Khan, speaks to CIVICUS about growing restriction on civil society in Bangladesh and his continued judicial harassment under the Cyber Crimes Tribunal.
1. Today marks one year since you and your colleague Mr ASM Nasiruddin Elan were charged with violating the widely contested Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Act. Can you tell us why you believe these charges were brought against you and where the case stands today?
On June 11th 2013, our organisation Odhikar published a fact finding report documenting the violent crackdown on demonstrators by government forces which began in the capital, Dhaka at 2:00am on May 5th 2013. After this ‘operation’ the government only reported 11 fatal casualties during the two day demonstration.
Odhikar carried out its own fact finding mission after the incident and documented 61 deaths. When the Ministry of Information requested the names and addresses of the families of those killed, Odhikar, fearing state reprisals against the victims’ families, committed only to providing the list to an independent commission set up by the government to investigate the use of violence during the protests. The Ministry, however, did not respond to Odhikar’s request. At 10:20 pm on the night of August 10, 2013, I was picked up by men outside my home claiming to be from the Detective Branch of Police (DB) but they did not produce any identification or a warrant. Later, at the Detective Branches’ office, I was questioned about the fact-finding report, the list of deceased victims and Odhikar’s human rights defenders. I was sent to Kashimpur Jail-1 from DB remand on 13 August 2013, while my colleague Elan was sent to Kashimpur Jail-2 after he surrendered before the court in November 2013.
4 September 2014. Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS urges Bangladesh’s government to unconditionally withdraw politically motivated criminal charges against Bangladeshi activists Adilur Rahman Khan and Mr ASM Nasiruddin Elan. They were charged one year ago today under the draconian Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act for documenting human rights violations.
“Mr Khan and Mr Elan are highly respected civil society activists who have made an immense contribution to support good governance and accountability in Bangladesh”, said Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Advocacy Officer at CIVICUS. “Their rights monitoring and advocacy work through their organisation, Odhikar, is crucial for Bangladesh’s democracy and to meet the country’s human obligations.”
The charges against Mr Khan and Mr Elan stem from the publication of a fact finding report by Odhikar on the alleged killing of 61 people by Bangladeshi security forces during a rally held by Hefazat-e-Islam activists in Dhaka from 5-6 May 2013. Bangladeshi authorities demanded that Odhikar release details of individuals who had submitted testimonials and evidence about the killings, which was rejected by the organization to protect them from reprisals.
3 September 2014. We have watched with horror, the death and destruction wreaked on the people of Gaza by the State of Israel over the past two months. We have watched the targeting of civilian areas by Israeli forces which has resulted in over 2000 deaths, including approximately 500 children. Notably, the UN has said that roughly 70% of the Palestinians killed were civilians. Equally, we condemn the actions of Hamas militants who let loose a barrage of rockets on Israeli civilian areas causing fear and the death of seven civilians.
We believe that what has taken place in Gaza represents a monumental failure of the global governance system, highlighting many of the weaknesses that we have outlined in our State of Civil Society Report 2014. The report points out that international institutions provide a battleground where the strategic imperatives of states are asserted and contested. This is evident from the lack of response by the UN Security Council whose primary responsibility is to maintain international peace and security. Although, we are heartened that the UN Human Rights Council was able to pass a resolution on the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate violations by both sides, we remain concerned whether perpetrators of what we believe are war crimes will be brought to justice. Sadly, many powerful and democratic states did not vote in support of the resolution.