Bangladesh

 

  • BANGLADESH: HRD tortured while in arbitrary detention must be released and charges be dropped

     

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    Bangladesh authorities must immediately release human rights defender Mohammad Abdul Kaium, who has been allegedly tortured in custody during his arbitrary detention. The fabricated case filed against him under the Digital Security Act (DSA)-2018 and other penal laws should be dropped immediately.

    The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has verified information that Mohammad Abdul Kaium, a human rights defender associated with Odhikar, an independent rights organisation working on key issues of civil and political rights, is facing state-orchestrated persecution from the Sheikh Hasina regime in Bangladesh.

    Kaium edits online news portal www.mymensinghlive.com and is a journalist with www.bdpress24.com. He is also a web developer. In 2018, Kaium signed an agreement to provide web-development service for Idris Ali Khan, a close relative of a Member of Parliament of the ruling party, whom Kaium had criticised in the past. The agreement was worth BDT 120,000 (USD 1,394).

    On 11 May 2019, Idris Khan summoned Abdul Kaium to his office to receive his payment. Upon Kaium's arrival Idris Khan offered USD 200, significantly lower than the agreed amount. Kaium refused to take the lower payment. As he left Idris Khan's office in Kristopur, Mymensingh district town – an area which is under the Kotwoali police station's jurisdiction – two plain-clothed officers of the Detective Branch (DB) Police arrested him. The police officers also seized a cell phone from Kaium.

    The DB police ordered Abdul Kaium to give them ‘the USD 200' and searched him. Failing to find the money, the police tortured him and ordered Kaium to confess that he extorted money from Idris Khan. While he was in detention, a team of plain-clothes detectives raided Kaium's house in the Bhatiashor area of Mymensing town without a search warrant. The police seized the files and other items, including the signed web development agreement between Kaium's company and Idris Khan, as well as the key to Kaium's room. However, the police have not yet submitted a list of seized items to the court.

    Kaium has told AHRC's Human Rights Fact-Finding Team that on the evening of 11 May, from his cell, he overheard Idris Khan bribing the police officers to torture him. Kaium also saw from his cell DB police Sub Inspector (SI) Akram placing money in the drawer of his office desk.

    Later the same evening, DB Officer-in-Charge (OC) Shah Kamal, SI Akram, SI Monju, SI Jewel and SI Porimol ordered Kaium to confess to receiving US dollars from Idris Khan.   Kaium refused, and asked the police officers why he was being kept in detention without a court appearance. Kaium reports that the DB officers became angry and threatened to kill him under the pretext of 'crossfire' unless he provided a confessional statement on his alleged involvement in an illegal currency-exchange business. As Kaium continued to refuse, he was subjected to a prolonged physical attack by all officers present, including being slapped, punched, hit with his belt and struck with a wooden chair. The police also seized Kaium's National Identity Card and forced him to divulge the passwords of his social media and email accounts, and the login details of his online news portal.

    On 12 May, a case was brought against Kaium by police in response to a complaint filed with Trishal Police Station by Idris Ali Khan on the same day.

    It includes the following charges under the repressive Digital Security Act of 2018:

    • Section 23 – digital or electronic fraud; punishable by five years’ imprisonment and a BDT 500,000 (USD 5,809) fine; or seven years’ imprisonment and BDT 1 million (USD 11,619) fine;
    • Section 25 – publishing, sending of offensive, false or fear inducing data-information punishable by imprisonment of three to five years and a BDT 300,000 to one million fine;
    • Section 29 – publishing, broadcasting, etc., defamatory information, punishable by imprisonment of three to five years and a BDT 500,000 to 1 million fine.

    The police also accused Kaium of offences under the Penal Code of 1860:

    • Sections 385 – putting a person in fear of injury in order to commit extortion punishable by five to 14 years' imprisonment with fines; and,
    • Section 386 – extortion by putting a person in fear of death or grievous hurt, punishable by 10 years' imprisonment with fine.

    On 13 May, Kaium was brought before the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court in Mymensingh. The police requested he remain in police remand for five days while Kaium's lawyer sought bail. On 14 May, the Magistrate rejected both petitions for remand and bail and ordered that Kaium be detained in prison. On 23 May, the Sessions Judge's Court rejected Kaium's bail petition.

    The factual information in relation to Kaium's detention establishes that the police illegally arrested and detained him a day before the case was fabricated against him. Although according to the First Information Report the alleged incident occurred in the jurisdiction of the Kotowali police, the complaint was registered in a different jurisdiction. The police arbitrarily detained Kaium for over 36 hours following his arrest in violation of Article 33 (2) of the Constitution of Bangladesh and Section 61 of the Code of Criminal Procedure-1898.

    The Court failed to protect Kaium's right to liberty and also ignored the fact that the police officers tortured Kaium in custody. It indicates that the Court's complicity in maintaining the culture of impunity in Bangladesh.

    Bangladesh authorities must halt the practice of fabricating cases against independent human rights defenders and journalists.

    TheCIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates the space for civil society in Bangladesh asrepressed.

    For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

    Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher,


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  • Alert: Bangladesh’s restrictive NGO law undermines development efforts, should be reviewed

    Bangladesh’s new Foreign Donations law is in breach of international norms and agreements, says global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.  CIVICUS remains deeply alarmed that the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act which was enacted last month will have serious negative consequences for Bangladeshi civil society and prevent them from undertaking their essential and legitimate work.

    “Worryingly, the law endows the government officials with broad powers to sanction civil society groups which are critical of the state or its policies and imposes arbitrary restrictions on access to vital funding to engage in sustainable development activities,” said Tor Hodenfield, Policy & Advocacy Officer from CIVICUS. “We urge the government to undertake a review of the law’s restrictive provisions in light of constitutional and international commitments and in the interests of the people of Bangladesh whom the country’s vibrant civil society serves.”

    Bangladesh is party to several international agreements, including the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation which obliges states to create an enabling environment for civil society organisations to maximise their contribution to development, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals framework which promises effective and meaningful civil society partnerships and protection of fundamental freedoms.

    Under the new law, foreign-funded NGOs which make ‘inimical’ and ‘derogatory’ remarks against the constitution and constitutional bodies, including the President, Prime Minister, Parliament, and the Supreme Court, can be subjected to criminal and administrative sanctions. Specifically, the law stipulates that the authorities may unilaterally deregister, withhold the registration or ban the activities of an NGO if it makes such comments. These provisions breach fundamental freedoms of expression and association and preclude civil society groups from publically scrutinising state policies and practices.

    In addition, the law places unwarranted and targeted controls on NGOs which receive funding from foreign sources. Under the law, all foreign-funded NGOs must register with the NGO Affairs Bureau (a state institution seated within Prime Minister’s office), submit regular activity reports and secure the Bureau’s prior approval before initiating any project which will use foreign donations. The law further imposes arbitrary and onerous limitations on how NGOs can use their own resources. Without justification, the law precludes NGOs from spending more than 20% of their budget on administrative costs.

    We urge the Government of Bangladesh to initiate (i) a dialogue with Bangladeshi civil society who will be severely impacted by the law’s restrictive provisions, and (ii) undertake a review process of the law to evaluate its compatibility with Bangladesh’s constitutional and international commitments. 

    Bangladesh is listed as repressed on the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

     

  • BANGLADESH : « Pour lutter contre le viol, nous avons besoin d’une réforme profonde du système juridique »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Aparajita Sangita, activiste des droits humains bangladeshi et cinéaste indépendante primée au niveau international. Aparajita a travaillé à travers plusieurs films sur la discrimination sexuelle et les droits des femmes, et a été impliqué dans diverses actions sociales, telles que des projets d’éducation pour les enfants des rues et des banques alimentaires. En réponse à son activisme, elle a été harcelée par la police. Pour son activisme sur les réseaux sociaux, elle a également été poursuivie pour harcèlement en vertu de la draconienne loi sur la sécurité numérique. Les charges retenues contre elle ont été abandonnées en réaction aux manifestations qui ont eu lieu dans la rue et sur internet.

    Aparajita Sangita

    Quels éléments ont déclenché les récentes manifestations contre le viol au Bangladesh ?

    Dans la nuit du 5 janvier 2020, une étudiante de l’université de Dhaka (UD) a été violée après être descendue d’un bus universitaire dans le quartier de Kurmitola de la capitale, Dhaka. Les étudiants de l’UD ont été perturbés par cet incident, qui a donné lieu à des manifestations et à l’organisation de plusieurs événements.

    Malgré les manifestations généralisées contre le viol, la violence sexuelle à l’égard des femmes a persisté et même augmenté pendant la pandémie de COVID-19.

    Le 25 septembre, une femme en visite au MC College de Sylhet avec son mari a été violée dans un foyer du campus par des activistes politiques liés au parti au pouvoir. Au même temps où éclataient des manifestations en réaction à cet incident, une vidéo montrant une femme en train d’être maltraitée à Begumganj, dans le Noakhali, est devenue virale sur les réseaux sociaux le 4 octobre. La vidéo montre un groupe d’hommes entrant dans la maison de la femme, la déshabillant et l’agressant physiquement, tout en laissant tout cela enregistré dans une vidéo.

    Ces incidents ne sont que quelques-uns des nombreux cas de viols et de violences sexuelles contre les femmes qui ont circulé sur les réseaux sociaux au Bangladesh. Les auteurs de ces violences sont des parents, des hommes proches, des forces de l’ordre, des fonctionnaires, des dirigeants politiques et des acteurs religieux.

    Tout cela a déclenché les manifestations de masse contre le viol qui ont eu lieu en octobre 2020, où des gens de tout le pays se sont rassemblés pour protester contre la violence à l’égard des femmes. Le mouvement contre le viol a commencé à Shahbag, connu sous le nom de « Bangladesh’s Movement Square », mais s’est rapidement étendu à toutes les villes, et même aux villages, à travers le Bangladesh. Il s’agit de Bogra, Brahminbaria, Champainabganj, Chandpur, Dhamirhat (Nowgaon), Faridpur, Gafargaon (Mymensingh), Gopalganj, Jaipurhat, Kurigram, Manikganj, Noakhali, Panchgarh, Rajshahi, Satkhira et Syedpur (Nilphamari).

    Le mouvement de protestation contre le viol a rassemblé des personnes de différents horizons, notamment des membres de partis politiques, des écrivains, des militants culturels, des activistes des réseaux sociaux, des joueurs de l’équipe nationale de cricket, des activistes des droits des femmes et des journalistes. Pour la première fois au Bangladesh, des femmes ont manifesté contre le viol au milieu de la nuit. À Dhaka, ils ont marché de Shahbag au Parlement, portant des torches et criant des slogans.

    Quelles étaient les principales revendications des manifestants ?

    Le mouvement de protestation anti-viol a formulé neuf demandes pour mettre fin aux viols et aux violences sexuelles. Il s’agit notamment de l’introduction de sanctions exemplaires pour les personnes impliquées dans des viols et des violences contre les femmes dans tout le Bangladesh et du licenciement immédiat du ministre de l’intérieur, qui n’a pas rempli son rôle de rendre la justice.

    Les manifestants ont également exigé la fin de tous les abus sexuels et sociaux à l’encontre des femmes tribales, la création d’un comité pour prévenir le harcèlement sexuel à l’encontre des femmes dans toutes les organisations gouvernementales et dans le secteur privé, ainsi que dans les établissements d’enseignement, conformément aux décisions de la Haute Cour, et la pleine application de la Convention sur l’élimination de toutes les formes de discrimination à l’égard des femmes (CEDAW). Ils ont également appelé à l’abolition des lois et des pratiques qui perpétuent les inégalités entre les sexes.

    Il a également été demandé de mettre fin au harcèlement mental des victimes pendant les enquêtes et de garantir leur sécurité juridique et sociale, d’inclure des experts en matière de criminalité et de genre dans les tribunaux de prévention de la répression des femmes et des enfants, et de créer davantage de tribunaux pour assurer un traitement rapide des affaires.

    Enfin, les manifestants ont demandé la modification de la section 155(4) et d’autres sections pertinentes de la loi sur les preuves afin de mettre fin à la recevabilité des preuves de la moralité des plaignants dans les procès pour viol et au retrait des manuels scolaires de tout matériel jugé diffamatoire envers les femmes ou les présentant comme inférieures.

    Comment les autorités ont-elles répondu aux manifestations ?

    Le 6 octobre, les manifestants ont marché de Shahbag jusqu’au bureau du Premier ministre avec des drapeaux noirs, mais ont été arrêtés par la police près de l’hôtel Intercontinental. Plusieurs dirigeants et activistes d’un corps étudiant de gauche ont été blessés par la police.

    En outre, le communiqué publié par la direction de la police le 10 octobre contenait des éléments de diffamation des manifestants. Il a déclaré que certains secteurs essayaient d’utiliser la manifestation « pour servir leurs intérêts », en sapant l’ordre public et en « créant du chaos social ». La police a averti les manifestants d’éviter toute « activité anti-étatique » et a annoncé que la police s’engageait à assurer la paix et l’ordre interne à tout prix. Cette déclaration a provoqué la panique des manifestants, qui craignaient la répression.

    En plus de faire face à la répression policière, plusieurs femmes activistes, dont la dirigeante de l’Association des étudiants de gauche, qui ont participé au mouvement anti-viol, ont été menacées par téléphone et par Facebook Messenger. Certains des activistes ont également été menacés de poursuites pénales.

    Qu’est-il arrivé au mouvement depuis lors, la campagne s’est-elle arrêtée ?

    Après que les manifestations contre les viols et les agressions sexuelles se soient répandues dans tout le pays, la loi sur la prévention de la répression des femmes et des enfants a été modifiée. La peine de mort a été imposée comme la punition la plus sévère pour le viol. Auparavant, la peine maximale pour viol au Bangladesh était la prison à vie. La peine de mort n’était appliquée que dans les cas de viols collectifs ou de viols ayant entraîné la mort de la victime.

    En conséquence, les manifestations ont cessé, car beaucoup de gens pensaient que la peine de mort réduirait les crimes de viol. Cependant, de nombreuses défenseures des droits des femmes insistent sur le fait que la peine de mort n’est pas la solution et demandent une réforme approfondie du système juridique et davantage d’éducation pour lutter contre ce qu’elles considèrent comme une épidémie de violence à l’égard des femmes au Bangladesh.

    Que peut faire la communauté internationale pour soutenir le mouvement ?

    Suite aux différents cas de violences sexuelles et de viols commis contre les femmes, nous avons vu un important mouvement de protestation émerger dans le pays. Cependant, certains manifestants et activistes ont reçu des menaces pour avoir élevé la voix. La solidarité de la communauté internationale est essentielle pour ceux qui protestent contre les violations des droits humains et formulent des demandes justes.

    La société bangladaise est extrêmement patriarcale, et il y a eu de nombreuses tentatives au fil des années pour restreindre la vie et la voix des femmes. Le viol est une expression de ce contexte. Vivre en sécurité est un droit fondamental de chaque femme, et il est de la responsabilité de chaque citoyen, ainsi que de la communauté internationale, de garantir ce droit.

    L’espace civique au Bangladesh est classé « reprimé » par leCIVICUS Monitor. 

     

  • Bangladesh: Authorities must end smear campaign against human rights group Odhikar

    • Human rights group Odhikar is the target of a broad campaign to prevent them from exposing human rights violations in Bangladesh
    • Pro-government media are engaged in a smear campaign against Odhikar, accusing them of involvement in “murky activities” and “conspiracy against the country”
    • State agencies have used bureaucratic red tape to prevent Odhikar from receiving funding and renewing their registration with the state for past four years
    • These actions highlight a systematic pattern of discrediting activists and organisations critical of the government
    • Global civil rights alliance, CIVICUS, has called on Bangladesh, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, to stop these campaigns ahead of December elections

    A chilling smear campaign by government-aligned media in Bangladesh against a local human rights group is the latest in an ongoing drive to prevent efforts to expose human rights violations in the country.

    Global civil rights group, CIVICUS, says the campaign targeting human rights organisation Odhikar highlights the repressive environment for civil society in Bangladesh.

    Odhikar was founded in 1994 and is a member of the International Federation for Human Rights.

    In the latest spate of incidents, the Election Commission of Bangladesh abruptly cancelled the Odhikar’s registration as an election observer on November 2018, saying that the state-run NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) had notified them that the organisation’s registration had expired.

    Three days later, the daily Janakantha newspaper published an article accusing Odhikar of being involved in various “anti-state and anti-government activities”, engaged in “conspiracy against the country”. It claimed the group was “tarnishing the country’s image by providing wrong information to the international community regarding elections and the human rights situation” in Bangladesh.

    The reporter also alleged that intelligence agencies recommended that the activities of Odhikar be shut down for violating NGO regulations, unlawfully taking funds from donor agencies and suspicious bank accounts. Odhikar has denied the accusations and called them completely false and fabricated.

    Since then, other media reports have surfaced calling for Odhikar’s activities to be stopped, alleging anti-state actions among them, a report by private TV channel, Channel 1 on November 16, accusing the organisation of embezzling funds.

    “This damaging smear campaign to discredit the work of an organization committed to upholding human rights is extremely alarming for civil society and civic freedoms in Bangladesh,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS.

    “These actions are unjustifiable intimidation tactics and highlight a pattern of demonising human rights defenders who are critical of the government,” Benedict said.

    Since 2014, the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB), state agency, has deliberately subjected Odhikar to bureaucratic delays to deprive the organisation of financial resources, while also withholding the renewal of its mandatory registration. Odhikar has previously been publicly threatened by the police for carrying out “subversive” activities” after documenting a spate of extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh in 2013. Activists working with Odhikar have come under surveillance, been targeted and arbitrarily detained for their activities.

    ““Bangladesh must start acting like a member of the UN Human Rights Council and take immediate steps to put an end to all forms of harassment against Odhikar and its staff,” said Benedict.

    “The government must also ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.”

    Bangladeshis are scheduled to go to the polls in late December to vote in national elections. Ahead of elections, scores of activists and government critics have been detained following peaceful protests with some facing criminal defamation charges. The authorities have also launched intensive and intrusive surveillance and monitoring of social media and have attempted to weaken opposition parties by arresting their members and dispersing their gatherings.

    CIVICUS has called on the government to also respect the right to freedom of association, which it committed to in its recent review at the Human Rights Council and confirm Odhikar’s registration with the NGO Affairs Bureau immediately as well as reinstate the organisations registration for election observation.

    Bangladesh was added to a global watchlist of countries which have seen an alarming escalation in threats to civil society. The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Bangladesh as ‘repressed’

    ENDS.

    For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

    Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher, CIVICUS

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    twitter: @CIVICUSalliance

     

  • BANGLADESH: ‘Out of fear, people are being silent’

    CIVICUS speaks with Aklima Ferdows, who works with the Centre for Social Activism in Bangladesh, about civil society’s challenges and support needs in the face of a sustained government crackdown.

    Can you tell us about your background and work?

    I have a civil society background, working with civil society organisations (CSOs) for almost 10 years, mostly on advocacy and capacity development. I also have law background and voluntarily work with the Centre for Social Activism (CSA), whose work focuses mostly on the freedom of expression and protection of human rights defenders. CSA documents human rights violations and advocates for the rights of marginalised communities on the ground.

    What are the current challenges around the freedom of expression in Bangladesh?

    Bangladesh had a long struggle for freedom and finally got independence from Pakistan in 1971 after a nine-months’-long war. But unfortunately, although we achieved our independence, our freedom is not assured even after so many years of independence. For civil society workers, human rights defenders, journalists and citizens in general, there is an environment of fear and self-censorship in the country now. Out of fear, people are being silent or are speaking on relatively ‘softer issues’ such as the rights of poor people, women and children. Because of fear of reprisal, people are refraining from doing things they used to do or not protesting or speaking openly. People need to think several times before they speak and act.

    Social media and online content monitoring are becoming strict, and you can see the changes in social media use. People used to share various types of news, updates and their thoughts. Now they mostly use social media for sharing their personal stuff or family related activity. People also complain about their calls being recorded. There were efforts to make people register to use social media with their national identity document. Some websites and online portals have been banned, contents are blocked and there are occasional internet shutdowns and slowdowns, including during elections. We have had several killings of online activists in recent years. Other online activists have left the country or gone silent. People’s ability to express themselves freely and creatively is limited and people are more fearful about sharing their views with other people.

    As an example of how the freedom of expression is restricted, in August 2019 a local councillor filed a case in Khagrachari district of the Chittagong Hill Tracts area against one of the reporters of the Daily Star, a major daily newspaper, simply because the reporter had used the word ‘Indigenous’ in a report. The plaintiff alleged that the journalist had intentionally made a provocation to destroy peace in the hills in the report, titled, ‘Three Indigenous villages face land grabbing’. The police were ordered to investigate. Although the court dismissed the case, it showed how sensitive the authorities can be. The people living in the country's plains and hills have long been demanding constitutional recognition as Adibashi (‘Indigenous’ in English). The Press Information Department issued a release (reference no. 2,704) in March 2015 urging the media, experts, university teachers and civil society members to avoid that word in discussions and talk shows on the International Day of the World's Indigenous People. There is no legal barrier to using the word ‘Adibashi’ anywhere in the country, but it seems that we are trying to push a group of people in their own country into a status of denial.

    Eighty-three lawsuits were filed against the Daily Star’s editor, Mahfuz Anam, by plaintiffs across the country, in 56 districts, who were not personally aggrieved. The matter began on 3 February 2016 when the editor of a TV talk show made an introspective comment about a lapse in his editorial judgment in publishing reports, based on information given by the Taskforce Interrogation Cell during the rule of the 2007-2008 caretaker government, without being able to verify those independently. He was accused of defamation and sedition. The number of cases show how many people can be mobilised against one. Allegations and legal actions can be brought against anyone on the grounds that they are trying to instigate communal violence, hurt religious sentiment or cause law and order violations.

    What are the other key restrictions against civil society freedoms, and what are the impacts on civil society?

    People need to get permission from the local authorities to hold an assembly or gathering. This has become very strict now. In some cases, people don’t get permission and, in some instances, permission have been withdrawn at the last moment.

    Another source of fear is the disproportionate use of force by law enforcement agencies. It is being used against opposition parties and their related organisations, but also against civil society, garment workers, student groups and cultural activists. The police force is often aggressive and there is impunity. So, people are reluctant about organising collectively as they did before. There are clear, direct threats as well as intimidation and there are also smears. For example, anti-corruption campaigners have been accused of avoiding paying taxes. And then there are repressive laws, which affect the freedom of expression and other freedoms of the people.

    Cases are being brought to harass people under the Digital Security Act, passed in October 2018. The law brought in jail sentences to a maximum of three years or fines of 300,000 taka (approx. US$3,750), or both, for publishing or assisting in the publication of information that is offensive or is known to be false with the intention of tarnishing the image of the state, or spreading confusion, or sending or publishing information intended to annoy or humiliate someone. The punishments can be almost doubled for a second offence. Now anyone can claim that someone is spreading rumours or is humiliating someone else, even if they are just sharing news online without any intention of spreading confusion or humiliating someone.

    The law also brought in a sentence of seven years in jail for hurting religious sentiment and values, and there are sentences of up to 14 years in jail or 2,500,000 taka (approx. US$29,450) in fines, or both, for charges of computer spying or digital spying for collecting, preserving, or sending any secret documents through a computer, digital device, computer network, digital network, or any electronic form. Journalists fear that the provisions of this Act will work against conducting investigative journalistic work and compromise the quality and freedom of journalism in Bangladesh. Under an earlier law, the ICT Act of 2016, several cases were brought against activists, journalists and activists. Now the police don’t even need a warrant to take someone in for questioning; it can be done based on mere suspicion.

    Another key obstacle for civil society is the restriction of funding. This has been going on for some time. The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act controls foreign funding for CSOs. There is also a funding shortage from foreign donors and development partners for rights advocacy programmes following the passing of the NGO Law and development partners have shifted their priorities to other regions. One of the provisions of the NGO law allows the NGO Affairs Bureau to suspend the registration of a CSO or to close it down if it makes any ‘derogatory’ remarks about the constitution or constitutional bodies.

    Any CSO or person receiving funding from a foreign entity must have permission. To get permission you need to give a copy of the proposal to the NGO Affairs Bureau, which sits in the prime minister’s office. Permission is sometimes withheld. Critics of civil society have occasionally raised concerns about some CSOs, alleging they could have links to terror financing, or that they are doing different work in the name of development. There is a fear that anything that doesn’t go well with the authorities could be blocked and the CSO denied funding.

    Then there is the new draft Volunteer Social Welfare Organizations (Registration and Control) Act of 2019. According to media reports, the draft says that all CSOs will have to register with the Ministry of Social Welfare, and any receiving foreign funding will also have to register with the NGO Affairs Bureau. CSOs cannot set up and operate unless they do so. Section 10 states that all CSOs will be able to work in only one district when they first register. After registration, CSOs can expand their scope of work, but only to five districts at a time. We have 64 districts, so this is the most restrictive.

    Section 14 requires CSOs to have an account with a state-owned bank and conduct all financial transactions via state-owned banks. It requires CSOs to submit their annual workplans, audit reports and activity reports. It also requires CSOS to submit tri-monthly bank statements to the local social welfare office and registration authorities. Section 11, in sub-sections 1 and 2, states that registrations must be renewed every five years, and failure to reregister or the refusal of registration will result in an organisation being dissolved.

    Incredibly, section 16 says that the government can expel the heads of CSOs and replace them with a government-appointed five-person committee and section 17 says that CSOs can be dissolved if they are believed to not be working in the best interests of the public or to have broken the law.

    According to the NGO Affairs Bureau, between March and June 2019, the government cancelled the registration of 197 CSOs.

    Civil society members are in a very tight situation now. They have become very cautious and are playing safe out of fear. If they don’t compromise, they might lose the funding they have and face threats. We are not seeing CSOs making many statements on human rights issues. Many CSOs are struggling for funding. There are some social movements starting up, working on issues such as the protection of natural resources and against gender-based violence, but they are being cautious about talking about gross human rights violations.

    What impacts did the December 2018 general election have on civil society?

    In advance, people felt a participatory election might not be held. I went out one day just to see how many posters in the vicinity were from the opposition. In my neighbourhood, I would say 99 per cent of the posters were of the ruling party candidate. Opposition party candidates and activists were not fully free to campaign, and the election was allegedly manipulated.

    Fears increased during the election, in which the ruling party won a landslide victory, because it confirmed the ruling party’s power. The ruling party has everything and after the election, we hardly hear the strong voice of opposition.

    What role is being played by student groups affiliated with ruling party?

    One of the main sources of attack are by the non-state actors linked to the ruling party, particularly its student and youth wing. Academic institutions such as universities are controlled by ruling party student activists. At protests, ruling party student groups work alongside law enforcement officers to attack people and harass them. This sometimes includes sexual harassment of women protesters.

    Given these challenges, what are the main support needs of Bangladeshi civil society?

    Bangladeshi civil society voices should be raised with unity and there is a need to raise concern about Bangladesh at the international level more and more. At the international level, the rights of the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have received huge attention, which is necessary, but this should not be used to overshadow other human rights violations in the country.

    We also need security and protection initiatives for CSO members. Bangladeshi CSOs should be developing these but they do not have funding for this, and requests for security and protection in funding proposals do not get much attention. There is also a need to explore flexible funding for CSOs.

    There is a need for more solidarity actions with local civil society. Those few organisations that are still trying to defend human rights, and local and grassroots groups, urgently need solidarity.

    Civic space in Bangladesh is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • BANGLADESH: “Para hacer frente a las violaciones necesitamos una profunda reforma del sistema legal”

    CIVICUS conversa con Aparajita Sangita, activista bangladesí de derechos humanos y cineasta independiente premiada internacionalmente. Aparajita ha trabajado en varias películas sobre la discriminación de género y los derechos de las mujeres, y ha participado en diversas acciones sociales, tales como proyectos de educación de los niños en situación de calle y bancos de alimentos. En respuesta a su activismo, ha sido acosada por la policía. Por su activismo en las redes sociales también fue demandada por acoso bajo la draconiana Ley de Seguridad Digital. Las acusaciones en su contra fueron retiradas en reacción a las protestas que se produjeron tanto en las calles como en internet.

    Aparajita Sangita

    ¿Qué desencadenó las recientes protestas contra las violaciones en Bangladesh?

    En la noche del 5 de enero de 2020, una estudiante de la Universidad de Dhaka (UD) fue violada tras bajar de un autobús universitario en la zona de Kurmitola de la capital, Dhaka. Los y las estudiantes de la UD se sintieron perturbados por este incidente, que dio lugar a protestas y a la organización de varios actos.

    A pesar de las protestas generalizadas contra la violación, la violencia sexual contra las mujeres persistió e incluso aumentó durante la pandemia de COVID-19.

    El 25 de septiembre, una mujer que visitaba el MC College de Sylhet con su marido fue violada en un albergue del campus por activistas políticos vinculados al partido gobernante. Mientras estallaban protestas en reacción a este hecho, el 4 de octubre se hizo viral en las redes sociales un video en el que se veía cómo abusaban de una mujer en Begumganj, Noakhali. El video mostraba a un grupo de hombres entrar en la casa de la mujer, desnudarla y agredirla físicamente, al tiempo que dejaban todo grabado en video.

    Estos incidentes son apenas algunos de los numerosos casos de violación y violencia sexual contra las mujeres que han circulado por las redes sociales en Bangladesh. Entre los autores de esta violencia se encuentran padres, familiares cercanos, agentes de la ley, funcionarios públicos, líderes políticos y actores religiosos.

    Todo ello gatilló las protestas masivas contra la violación que tuvieron lugar en octubre de 2020, en las que personas de todo el país se unieron para protestar contra la violencia contra las mujeres. El movimiento de protesta contra la violación comenzó en Shahbag, conocida como “la Plaza del Movimiento de Bangladesh”, pero pronto se extendió a todas las ciudades, e incluso a los pueblos, de todo Bangladesh. Entre ellas se contaron Bogra, Brahminbaria, Champainabganj, Chandpur, Dhamirhat (Nowgaon), Faridpur, Gafargaon (Mymensingh), Gopalganj, Jaipurhat, Kurigram, Manikganj, Noakhali, Panchgarh, Rajshahi, Satkhira y Syedpur (Nilphamari).

    En el movimiento de protesta contra la violación confluyeron personas de diferentes ámbitos, como miembros de partidos políticos, escritores, activistas culturales, activistas de las redes sociales, jugadores del equipo nacional de críquet, activistas por los derechos de la mujer y periodistas. Por primera vez en Bangladesh, las mujeres se manifestaron contra las violaciones en plena noche. En Dhaka, marcharon desde Shahbag hasta el Parlamento, portando antorchas y gritando consignas.

    ¿Cuáles eran las principales reivindicaciones de las manifestantes?

    El movimiento de protesta contra la violación planteó nueve demandas para acabar con las violaciones y la violencia sexual. Entre ellas, la introducción de castigos ejemplares para los implicados en violaciones y violencia contra las mujeres en todo Bangladesh y la destitución inmediata del ministro del Interior, que no ha desempeñado su rol de impartir justicia.

    Las manifestantes también exigieron el fin de todos los abusos sexuales y sociales contra las mujeres tribales; la creación de un comité para prevenir el acoso sexual contra las mujeres en todas las organizaciones gubernamentales y en el sector privado, así como en las instituciones educativas, en línea con los fallos del Tribunal Superior; y la plena aplicación de la Convención sobre la Eliminación de todas las Formas de Discriminación contra la Mujer (CEDAW). También instaron a la abolición de las leyes y prácticas que perpetúan las desigualdades de género.

    También se hicieron llamamientos a poner fin al acoso mental de las víctimas durante las investigaciones y a garantizar su seguridad jurídica y social, a incluir a personas expertas en criminalidad y género en los Tribunales de Prevención de la Represión de la Mujer y el Niño, y a crear más tribunales para garantizar la rápida tramitación de los casos.

    Por último, las manifestantes instaron a la modificación del artículo 155(4) y otros artículos pertinentes de la Ley de Evidencia para poner fin a la admisibilidad de las pruebas del carácter de las denunciantes en juicios por violación y a la eliminación de los libros de texto de todo material considerado difamatorio hacia las mujeres o que las describiera como inferiores.

    ¿Cómo respondieron las autoridades a las protestas?

    El 6 de octubre, las manifestantes marcharon desde Shahbag hasta la Oficina del Primer Ministro con banderas negras, pero fueron detenidas por la policía en las cercanías del Hotel Intercontinental. Varios dirigentes y activistas de un organismo estudiantil de izquierdas resultaron heridos por la policía.

    Además, el comunicado emitido por la jefatura de policía el 10 de octubre contenía elementos de vilipendio de los y las manifestantes. En él se afirmaba que determinados sectores intentaban utilizar la protesta “para servir a sus intereses”, socavando la ley y el orden y “creando caos social”. La policía advirtió a los y las manifestantes que evitaran cualquier “actividad antiestatal” y anunció que la policía se comprometía a garantizar la paz y el orden internos a toda costa. Esta declaración provocó pánico entre las personas movilizadas, que temieron ser reprimidas.

    Además de enfrentar represión policial, varias mujeres activistas, entre ellas la líder de la Asociación de Estudiantes de Izquierda, que participaron en el movimiento contra la violación, fueron amenazadas por teléfono y por Facebook Messenger. Algunas de las activistas también fueron amenazadas con la apertura de causas penales contra ellas.

    ¿Qué ha pasado con el movimiento desde entonces? ¿Se ha detenido la campaña?

    Después de que las protestas contra las violaciones y agresiones sexuales se extendieran por todo el país, se modificó la Ley de Prevención de la Represión de Mujeres y Niños. Se impuso la pena de muerte como castigo más severo para la violación. Anteriormente, la pena máxima por violación en Bangladesh era la cadena perpetua. La pena de muerte sólo se aplicaba en casos de violación en grupo, o de violación que provocara la muerte de la víctima.

    A raíz de esto, las protestas se detuvieron, ya que mucha gente pensó que la pena de muerte reduciría los delitos de violación. Sin embargo, muchas defensoras de los derechos de las mujeres insisten en que la pena de muerte no es la respuesta y exigen una reforma profunda del sistema legal y más educación para hacer frente a lo que, según ellas, es una epidemia de violencia contra las mujeres en Bangladesh.

    ¿Qué puede hacer la comunidad internacional para apoyar al movimiento?

    A raíz de los diversos casos de violencia sexual y violación cometidos contra las mujeres, hemos visto surgir un importante movimiento de protesta en el país. Sin embargo, algunas manifestantes y activistas han recibido amenazas por alzar sus voces. La solidaridad de la comunidad internacional es esencial para quienes protestan contra violaciones de derechos humanos y hacen reclamos justos.

    La sociedad de Bangladesh es extremadamente patriarcal, y durante años se han sucedido numerosos intentos de restringir las vidas y las voces de las mujeres. La violación es una expresión de este contexto. Vivir seguras es un derecho fundamental de toda mujer, y es responsabilidad de todas y todos los ciudadanos, así como de la comunidad internacional, garantizar este derecho.

    El espacio cívico en Bangladesh es calificado como “represivo” por elCIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • BANGLADESH: “To address rape we need a thorough reform of the legal system”

    CIVICUS speaks to Aparajita Sangita, a Bangladeshi human rights activist and an international award-winning independent filmmaker. Aparajita has worked on several films on discrimination against women and women’s rights and has been involved in various social activities including street children’s education and food banking. In response to her activism, she has been harassed by the police. She was also sued for harassment under the draconian Digital Security Act for her online activism. The case was withdrawn in the wake of widespread protests on the streets and online.

    Aparajita Sangita

    What triggered the recent anti-rape protests in Bangladesh?

    On the evening of 5 January 2020, a student at Dhaka University (DU) was raped after getting off a university bus in the Kurmitola area of the capital, Dhaka. DU students were disturbed by this incident, which led to protests and the organisation of several other events.

    Despite widespread protests against the rape, sexual violence against women persisted and even increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    On 25 September, a woman who was visiting MC College in Sylhet with her husband was raped in a hostel on campus by political activists linked to the ruling party. As protests erupted over this, a video of a woman being abused in Begumganj, Noakhali on 4 October went viral on social media. The video clip showed a group of men entering the woman’s house, stripping her naked and physically assaulting her, while capturing it all on video.

    These incidents are just a few of the numerous cases of rape and sexual violence against women that have been circulating on social media in Bangladesh. The perpetrators of this violence include fathers, close relatives, law enforcement officials, public representatives, political leaders and religious actors.

    All of this led to the mass anti-rape protests of October 2020, when people from all over the country came together to protest against violence against women. The anti-rape protest movement started in Shahbag, known as the ‘Movement Square of Bangladesh’, but soon spread to every city, even villages, across Bangladesh. This includes Bogra, Brahminbaria, Champainababganj, Chandpur, Dhamirhat (Nowgaon), Faridpur, Gafargaon (Mymensingh), Gopalganj, Jaipurhat, Kurigram, Manikganj, Noakhali, Panchgarh, Rajshahi, Satkhira and Syedpur (Nilphamari).

    People from different walks of life, including members of political parties, writers, cultural activists, online activists, national cricket team players, women’s rights activists and journalists, converged in the anti-rape protest movement. For the first time in Bangladesh, women marched against rape in the middle of the night. In Dhaka, they marched from Shahbag to Parliament House, carrying torches and shouting slogans.

    What were protesters’ main demands?

    The anti-rape protest movement raised nine demands to stop rape and sexual violence. They included the introduction of exemplary punishment for those involved in rape and violence against women across Bangladesh and the immediate removal of the home minister who had failed to deliver justice.

    Protesters also demanded an end to all sexual and social abuse of tribal women; the establishment of a committee to prevent sexual harassment of women in all government and private organisations as well as in educational institutions, following High Court orders; and the full implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). They also urged the abolition of laws and practices that create inequality towards women.

    Other calls included putting a stop to the mental harassment of victims during investigations and ensuring their legal and social security, the inclusion of crime and gender experts in Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals, and the establishment of more tribunals to ensure the quick processing of cases.

    Finally, they urged the amendment of Section 155(4) and other relevant sections of the Evidence Act to end the admissibility of character evidence of complainants in rape trials and the elimination from textbooks of all materials deemed defamatory of women or depicting them as inferior.

    How did the authorities respond to the protests?

    On 6 October, protesters marched from Shahbag to the Prime Minister’s Office with black flags but were stopped by the police at the Hotel Intercontinental Junction. Several leaders and activists of a left-wing student body were injured by the police.

    In addition, a section of a statement issued by the police headquarters on 10 October attempted to vilify the protesters. It stated that “vested quarters” were trying to use the protest “to serve their interests” by undermining law and order and “creating social chaos.” The police warned protesters to avoid any “anti-state activities” and announced that the police were committed to ensuring internal peace and order at all costs. This statement caused panic among protesters, who feared a crackdown.

    Besides facing police repression, several women activists, including the leader of the Left Students’ Association, who participated in the anti-rape movement, were threatened with rape over the phone and on Facebook Messenger. Some of the activists were also threatened with criminal cases.

    What has happened to the movement since? Has the campaign stopped?

    After the protests against rape and sexual assault spread across the country, the Women and Children Repression Prevention Law was amended. The death sentence was imposed as the most severe punishment for rape. Previously, the maximum punishment for rape in Bangladesh was life imprisonment. The death penalty was only applied in cases of gang rape, or rape that resulted in the victim’s death.

    Following this the protests halted, as many thought that the death penalty would see a reduction in rape crimes. However, many women’s rights campaigners insist the death penalty is not the answer and demand a thorough reform of the legal system and more education to address what they say is an epidemic of violence against women in Bangladesh.

    What can the international community support the movement?

    In the wake of the various cases of sexual violence and rape committed against women, we have seen an important protest movement emerge within the country. However, some protesters and activists have faced threats when they have raised their voices. The solidarity of the international community is essential for those protesting against human rights violations and making fair claims.

    Bangladesh is an extremely patriarchal society, and there have been numerous attempts to restrict women’s lives and voices for years. Rape is an expression of this environment. It is a fundamental right for a woman to live in safety and it is the responsibility of all citizens, as well as the international community, to ensure this right.

    Civic space inBangladesh is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Bangladesh: Authorities must conduct investigations into death of protesters

    The Bangladeshi authorities must conduct prompt, thorough, impartial, and independent investigations into the death of at least 14 protesters across the country between 26 and 28 March, and respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, said 11 human rights organisations in a joint statement today. The organisations also called on the international community to urge Bangladeshi authorities to put an end to the practice of torturing and forcibly disappearing opposition activists.

     

  • Bangladesh: Democracy Dialogue Report: 8 September 2018

    Democracy Dialogue held by the Aathung Foundation in Bandarban, Bangladesh, 8 September 2018

     

  • Bangladesh: Hold security forces accountable for torture

    Rights Groups Call for Decisive Action on International Day for Victims

    The Bangladesh government has failed to address widespread allegations of torture and ill-treatment by its security forces, ten rights groups said on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The groups called on the United Nations and concerned governments to take decisive action.

    Law-enforcement and intelligence agencies in Bangladesh, including both the police and soldiers seconded into civilian law enforcement are credibly accused of torture and ill-treatment of detainees and suspects. Such acts have included: beatings with iron rods, belts, and sticks; using electric shocks on their ears and sexual organs; waterboarding; hanging detainees from ceilings and beating them; deliberately shooting to maim, including knee-capping them; forcing prolonged exposure to loud music and sounds; committing mock executions; and subjecting them to forced nudity. Hundreds have become victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

    “Bangladesh human rights activists, international groups, and UN experts have all raised concerns about security force abuses including ill treatment in custody only to be met with denials and lies,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Over the past several decades Bangladesh leaders pledged reform but each government has scaled up such atrocities, fostering a culture of abuse and impunity among security forces.”

    The Bangladesh government failed to follow-up as required in August 2020 after the UN Committee against Torture made concrete recommendations to prevent and address torture during the country’s review under the Convention against Torture in July 2019. These recommendations included official statements at the highest levels that torture will not be tolerated and that law enforcement authorities must end unacknowledged detentions. 

    The committee said that the government should establish an independent mechanism to investigate all allegations of torture or ill-treatment by law enforcement officials, enact legislation to protect victims and witnesses, and publish a list of all detention sites. 

    Following the review, the UN human rights body described the police as a “state within a state,” asserting that “in general, one got the impression that the police, as well as other law enforcement agencies, were able to operate with impunity and zero accountability.” 

    Seven years after its implementation, in 2020, a Bangladesh court ordered the first ever conviction under the 2013 Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act. Activists hoped this would pave the way for investigations and accountability for the dozens of documented reports of torture by security forces. However, following the 2020 conviction, the victim’s family told the media that they faced repeated pressure, threats, and offered bribes by law enforcement to drop the case. Furthermore, Bangladesh police have repeatedly called for the government to amend the 2013 Torture Act to make it less prohibitive, casting doubt on the hope some harbored that Bangladesh’s security forces may be serious about ending torture. 

    Mushtaq Ahmed, a writer, died in prison on February 25, 2021, after being held in pretrial detention for nine months for posting on Facebook criticism of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. His death caused a public outcry. Ahmed Kabir Kishore, a cartoonist, who had been detained with Ahmed by members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), was released on bail. Kishore filed a legal claim alleging that he was tortured, and also described the torture Ahmed said he had undergone while they were illegally detained. 

    “Mushtaq was smelling strongly of urine,” Kishore said. “He too had been picked up a few days ago and had been beaten a lot. He was electrocuted in the genitals. There were newspapers on the floor and I asked Mushtaq to use that to clean himself. He took off his underwear and threw it away—I saw that it had excrement in it. He had defecated in his pants from the torture, he told me.”

    When 13 Diplomats expressed grave concern about Ahmed’s death in custody and called for “a swift, transparent, and independent inquiry into the full circumstances” of his death, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told the media to “stop giving publicity to this sort of nuisance.” The government has yet to hold an independent and transparent investigation into Ahmed’s death.

    Rights groups have extensively documented crimes of torture, extrajudicial killing, and enforced disappearances, in particular by the Detective Branch of police and the RAB, a paramilitary force notorious for committing acts of torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances, and have called for RAB to be disbanded. In March 2021, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet affirmed that “[a]legations of torture and ill-treatment by the Rapid Action Battalion have been a long-standing concern.”

    In October 2020, US senators published a bipartisan letter calling for targeted sanctions against top RAB officials for torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances under all applicable authorities, including the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. The US government should swiftly move forward with these measures and should be joined by other concerned jurisdictions with similar sanctions regimes including the UK, EU, and Canada. 

    The UN Committee against Torture has expressed concern “that personnel that have served with the Rapid Action Battalion have frequently been deployed for service with United Nations peace missions” and called for an independent inquiry into allegations of grave abuses by the Rapid Action Battalion. Bangladesh is the top contributor of peacekeeping troops in the world, yet these troops are not being sufficiently vetted to ensure abusive practices inculcated at home are not tacitly condoned and exported to missions abroad, the groups said. 

    “The United Nations should stand with victims of torture in Bangladesh by ensuring that abusive security forces cannot ‘blue-wash’ their reputations through deployment in UN peacekeeping operations,” Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman, liaison officer of the Asian Human Rights Commission. “The UN department of Peace Operations should start by taking a serious look at how their human rights vetting policy is being applied in Bangladesh.”

    The UN should undertake a comprehensive review of its ties with the Bangladesh military. All discussions about increasing Bangladeshi troop deployments in UN missions and high-rank posts should be put on hold pending the results of such an investigation, the groups said. The UN Department of Peace Operations should sever all ties with any units, soldiers, and commanders found responsible for serious human rights abuses, including commanders who failed to prevent or punish abuses by individuals under their command. 

    In addition, the UN department of Peace Operations should carry out increased vetting for all personnel with a history of RAB affiliation under the 2012 UN policy on Human Rights Screening of United Nations Personnel which requires verification that any individual serving the United Nations has not committed any “violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.” 

    The UN Human Rights Council should adopt a resolution on enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh. 

    “Bangladesh authorities have long been sweeping allegations of torture under the rug,” said Angelita Baeyens, Vice President of International Advocacy and Litigation at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “The government should heed recommendations by the UN rights bodies and address abuses by its security forces.”

    This joint statement is endorsed by:

    1. Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) 
    2. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) 
    3. Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) 
    4. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) 
    5. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    6. Eleos Justice, Monash University 
    7. Human Rights Watch 
    8. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) 
    9. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
    10. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

     

     

  • Bangladesh: International community must respond to crackdown on freedom of expression

    The Bangladeshi authorities must end their escalating crackdown on human rights, and respect and protect people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Bangladesh to curb protesters demanding justice for writer Mushtaq Ahmed’s death in prison on 25 February, the nine undersigned human rights organizations said in a joint statement today.

    Ahmed, 53, was a Bangladeshi writer held in pre-trial arbitrary detention for nine months under the draconian Digital Security Act of 2018 (“DSA”), following his arrest in May 2020 for Facebook posts and social media communications that were deemed critical of the government. The death in prison of Mushtaq Ahmed raises serious concerns about the protection of fundamental freedoms, including the rights to life, privacy, and the right to liberty.

    Ahmed Kabir Kishore, 45, a prominent Bangladeshi cartoonist was also arrested in the same case as Mushtaq. After ten months in prison, on March 3 he was granted bail and was released on March 4 but the charges against him have not been dropped. Further, there are strong reasons to believe that Ahmed Kabir Kishore has been tortured while in custody of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a Bangladesh paramilitary force, which has been accused of serious human rights violations in the past. In addition to no longer being able to hear on his right ear, he also has difficulty walking due to pain in his left knee and ankle. Furthermore, Ahmed Kabir Kishore is diabetic and has been suffering from severely high levels of blood sugar during his detention. Without urgent and proper medical attention, he is at risk of visual impairment due to his deteriorating health.

    In light of these developments, the organizations call on Bangladeshi authorities to conduct prompt, thorough, impartial, and transparent investigations into the death in prison of writer Mushtaq Ahmed and the allegations of torture against cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore. Perpetrators must be identified and brought to justice.

    Authorities must also unconditionally and permanently release Ahmed Kabir Kishore, end the practice of arbitrary, pre-trial detention of people solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression. 

    Mushtaq Ahmed and Ahmed Kabir Kishore are among hundreds of victims whom the Bangladeshi authorities have held in detention under the DSA. Nine others have been accused in the same case for publishing “false information” and “propaganda against the liberation war, the spirit of liberation war, father of the nation”, which could “deteriorate law and order” by “supporting or organizing crime” under sections 21, 25, 31 and 35 respectively of the DSA. If convicted, they could face up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to 10 million Bangladeshi takas (equivalent to USD 115,891). These vaguely defined provisions of the law are incompatible with international human rights law and are being used to criminalize freedom of expression. The organization urge the Bangladeshi government to repeal the DSA - under which both Ahmed and Kishore were charged. All digital and cybersecurity laws must conform to international human rights law including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

    The undersigned organizations also expressed concern over reports of police violence on peaceful protestors, including activists of opposition political parties, who took to the streets to demand justice for Mushtaq Ahmed’s death in prison. The violent crackdown by police has left hundreds of protesters injured, dozens detained, and several others accused of charges, including attempted murder. Bangladeshi authorities must respect and protect the people’s rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and liberty. Authorities must drop all charges against the peaceful protesters, and immediately and unconditionally release those detained.

    To protect and respect the human rights, individual states should urge the Bangladeshi authorities to address the allegations of grave human rights violations being committed in Bangladesh. The international community should impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for grave human rights violations in Bangladesh. Given the concerning record of human rights abuses committed by Bangladesh’s security forces and law-enforcement agencies, the UN should review their participation in UN Peacekeeping Operations.

    This statement is endorsed by the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Asian Network for Free Election (ANFREL), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Eleos Justice - Monash University, FIDH: International Federation for Human Rights (within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders), OMCT: World Organisation Against Torture, (within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders), Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

    For more information, please contact:

    For the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), Nilda L. Sevilla;  Email:  

    For Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), in Bangkok, Melissa Ananthraj, Communication and Media Programme, .

    For Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), in Hong Kong, Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman (Bangla & English): +852 6073 2807 (Mobile);

    Asian Network for Free Election (ANFREL), Chandanie Watawala, Email:  

    For CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Researcher (English): Email:

    For Eleos Justice - Monash University, Mai Sato (English): Email:  
    FIDH: International Federation for Human Rights, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

    OMCT: World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders,  Iolanda Jaquemet Email:

    For Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, in Washington, DC, Minhee Cho, Media Relations Associate (English):


    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Bangladesh as Repressed

     

  • Bangladesh: No accountability for killing of Mushtaq Ahmed 100 days on

    100 days on since the death in custody of writer and critic Mushtaq Ahmed, no one has been held accountable for his killing. Global civil society alliance CIVICUS calls on the Bangladesh authorities to immediately establish an independent investigation into his death and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

     

  • Bangladesh: Open letter on Digital Media Security Bill

    To

    The President of Bangladesh, H.E. Md Abdul Hamid

    The Chair of the National Human Rights Commission, H.E. Kazi Reazul Hoque

    Subject: Open letter on Digital Media Security Bill

    Your Excellencies

    We write to you as international civil society organisations engaged on human rights and sustainable development issues in Bangladesh. We are concerned that in the current political climate in Bangladesh, which is narrowing avenues for free debate and legitimate democratic dissent in the country, the Bangladesh Digital Security Bill 2018, likely to be introduced in the current session of Parliament, fails to protect the right of the media, civil society and members of the general public to freely express their opinions on policies and actions of decision makers.

    Many of our organisations have closely followed debates about this bill over the years. In the past we have raised concerns about the existence of overbroad definitions and harsh punishments in the bill which, if enacted, would severely undermine freedom of expression as well as the freedom of the press. From available information, it appears that our concerns about the bill’s provisions as likely to impinge on constitutional rights and well as Bangladesh’s commitments under international law persist. Both Article 29 of the Constitution of Bangladesh and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allow the imposition of restrictions on the right to freedom of expression only in very limited and clearly defined circumstances.

    In the present situation we recommend that the bill’s provisions are carefully considered from a constitutional and international law standpoint. Mr. David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, has done extensive work on the subject including on the exercise of the freedom of expression in the digital age. We believe that the government would greatly benefit from engagement with Mr. Kaye, who could advise on the permissible limits on the freedom of expression under international law.

    Furthermore, we urge the government to seek assistance from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on measures to strengthen the protection and promotion of human rights in the country in line with constitutional and international standards. We are concerned to hear that an official visit to Bangladesh by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, H.E. Zeid bin Ra’ad Al Hussein has been postponed and request the facilitation of a such a visit at the earliest opportunity.

    We believe that Bangladesh’s democracy and commitment to human rights and sustainable development will be strengthened through constructive engagement with UN human rights experts. We urge you to kindly consider the above requests in the interests of the people of Bangladesh.

    Sincerely,

    List of signatories (in alphabetical order)

    Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)

    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

    Asian Human Rights Commission

    CIVICUS

    FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights

    Human Rights Watch

    Odhikar

    People’s Watch

    Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

     

  • Bangladesh: Open Letter to Prime Minister about controversial digital security bill

    Conditions for human rights defenders and journalists in Bangladesh are dire, and appear to be worsening according to the CIVICUS Monitor. A declining respect for democracy has precipitated the closure of civic space through a systematic clampdown on independent dissent. This intensifying crackdown on civil society has led to a de facto ban on public meetings, mass arrests of activists and reports of abductions and torture. Civil society actors documenting human rights violations perpetrated by the government are particularly vulnerable to harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest.

    The authorities in Bangladesh continue to target civil society, most recently through draconian legislation designed to undermine the sector's independence. In  October 2016, parliament passed an amendment to the widely-criticised Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Bill (FDRB). The law strengthens the government's power to revoke CSO licenses for a variety of offences, including defamation, involvement in subversive activities and terrorist financing. The Digital Security Bill placed in Parliament is yet another attempt to stifle freedom of expression in Bangladesh and impede independent journalism. See full details of the Security bill in a joint leter below to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh:

    H.E. Sheikh Hasina Wazed
    Prime Minister of Bangladesh
    c/o Md. Nojibur Rahman
    Principal Secretary to the HPM
    Prime Minister’s Office
    Tejgaon, Dhaka-1215
    Bangladesh

    Dear Prime Minister,

    Open Letter: Proposed Digital Security Bill will restrict free expression and promote self-censorship in Bangladesh

    FORUM-ASIA, the Asian Human Rights Commission and CIVICUS (World Alliance for Citizen Participation) are writing to you, as civil society organisations, to express our grave concern about the implications of the proposed Digital Security Bill 2018 on the right to freedom of expression of the citizens of Bangladesh. 

    We understand that the draft bill was presented before the parliament and was sent to a Standing Committee on 9 April 2018 and is expected to be reviewed over the next four weeks. 

    We believe the 2018 Digital Security Bill contains provisions that are overly broad and vague, and that impose disproportionate sentences and prescribe lengthy prison sentences for violators. The bill, if adopted, will exacerbate a range of legal restrictions that will impinge on the right to freedom of expression guaranteed in the Constitution and the country’s obligations under international law, in particular the ICCPR, which was ratified by Bangladesh in 2000.
    We are particularly concerned about the follow aspects of the bill: 

    • The bill proposes to empower low ranking police officers with wide discretionary powers to conduct investigations, searches and seizures without applying normative digital evidentiary standards and without judicial oversight. 
    • The bill lacks a precise definition of what is considered a cybercrime and criminalises the use of electronic devices to “cause deterioration to law and order”, harm "religious sentiments”, cause incitement "against another person or organization”, and carry out “acts of defamation” - all of which have been incorporated from section 57 of the ICT Act. The bill simply splits these offences into four separate sections (21, 25, 28 and 29) with punishment ranging from three to 10 years' jail term. 
    • There are concerns around the inclusion of the crime of “carrying out negative propaganda" against the Liberation War (1971 War of Independence) or the ‘Father of the Nation’ (Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country's first president) that carries a maximum sentence of up to 14 years' in jail or a fine of up to Tk 50 lakh (60,000 USD) or both. These provisions are in contravention of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
    • Section 32 of the draft bill related to "espionage” could be used against journalists, online activists and lawyers who investigate and expose controversy or illegality within the government. 
    • The bill also stipulates some crimes are “non-bailable” and authorises security agencies to search or arrest anyone without any warrant if a police officer believes that an offense under the law has been committed or there is a possibility of crimes. Such provision often encourages abuse of power by law enforcement officers and promotes self-censorship.

    We are concerned that, according to reports, although the draft bill is currently under consideration in parliament, cases filed under section 57 of the ICT Act will continue to be investigated and if necessary, prosecuted.

    Section 57 of the ICT Act violates the right to freedom of expression by both criminalising legitimate forms of expression and through its vague wording that allows the authorities to arbitrarily and abusively apply the law. Scores of journalists have been arrested under section 57 of the Act for their reporting; around 700 cases have been filed under this Section since 2013. The provision has also been described as a “de facto blasphemy law”, as it criminalises several forms of online expression including anyone who “causes to hurt or may hurt religious belief”.

    In 2017, the Human Rights Committee in its concluding observations raised concerns about the arrest of journalists, “secular bloggers” and human rights defenders under the ICT Act and called for the government to “repeal or revise the [ICT law] with a view to bringing it into conformity with the State party’s obligations under the Covenant, taking into account the Committee’s general comment No. 34 (2011) on the freedoms of opinion and expression”.

    We are also highly concerned by the government's lack of meaningful consultation regarding the bill with key stakeholders including journalists, civil society and the human rights community. We urge the government of Bangladesh to prioritise a collective review of the proposed Digital Security Bill to bring it in line with international human rights law and standards and to repeal Section 57 of the ICT Act. The government must ensure that any future legislative proposals that have implications for the media or civil society are developed in full consultation with all stakeholders.

    Freedom of expression is of critical importance to hold those in power accountable. There should be no limitations on the freedom of expression and personal opinion, particularly those that systematically violate democratic spaces and practices.

    It is crucial that the government takes steps to develop an enabling environment for freedom of expression in line with international standards and end its willful misuse of restrictive legislation to subvert free speech.

    The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) works towards the radical rethinking and fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in order to protect and promote human rights in Asia. Established in 1984, the Hong Kong based organisation is a Laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, 2014.

    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. Headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa it is a membership alliance with more than 4,000 members in more than 175 countries.

    FORUM-ASIA is a regional human rights group with 58 member organisations in 19 countries across Asia. FORUM-ASIA has offices in Bangkok, Jakarta, Geneva and Kathmandu. FORUM-ASIA addresses key areas of human rights violations in the region, including freedoms of expression, assembly and association, human rights defenders, and democratization.

    For further details, contact: 


    AHRC, bangladeshATahrc.asia 
    CIVICUS, josef.benedictATcivicus.org
    FORUM-ASIA, sasiaATforum-asia.org

     

  • Bangladesh: Release all those arbitrarily arrested and investigate police abuse

    To the President of Bangladesh,
    H.E. Md Abdul Hamid

    Bangladesh: Release all those arbitrarily arrested and investigate police abuse

    Dear President Hamid,

    We are writing to express our concerns about serious violations of civic freedoms perpetrated during recent protests in Bangladesh. We urge your government to take immediate steps to address these issues in accordance with your international human rights obligations.

    Our organisations are concerned about reports that police used excessive force, including firing rubber bullets and tear gas on 4th August 2018 to disperse demonstrations in Dhaka which were triggered by the killing of two teenagers by a speeding bus on 29th July 2018. We are also concerned that the government may be covering up the actual death toll and have received information that at least three others students may have also been killed and one critically injured.

    Some of the student protesters were also allegedly attacked by members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) and Jubo League, the student and youth wing of the ruling Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) party.

    More than 20 journalists were attacked, some of whom were later detained briefly by the police. At least four journalists from The Daily Star newspaper were reportedly beaten while at least seven photojournalists were injured in attacks in Jhigatala and Science Lab areas of the city on 5 August 2018. While some attackers wore helmets, the journalists identified some of their attackers as BCL members.

    We are also concerned about the arbitrary arrest of scores of individuals around the protest, in particularly Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam who was taken from his home, just hours after he made comments on Al-Jazeera about protests in the city. He was subsequently charged under section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information Communications Technology Act a provision that has been frequently used to bring charges against critics, activists and other dissenting voices in Bangladesh. He has also alleged that he was tortured while in custody. A lawyer in Sirajganj, Sakhawat Hossain Shakil, was also arrested and remanded under Section 57 of the ICT Act on 7th August for allegedly sharing anti-government posts and expressing solidarity with safe road protesters on Facebook.

    At least 22 protesters were remanded in police custody for two days and five are facing charges under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act. Some were allegedly tortured or ill-treated in custody. They are now detained in prison as the courts have rejected the applications for bail.

    In the last few months, our organisations have also documented attacks by the BCL against students protesting the civil service quota system, which reserves 30 percent of government jobs for children of freedom fighters from Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971. Academics and journalists supporting them have also been targeted. Some student activists were subsequently detained and charged. At least six are languishing in jail and according to their lawyers were allegedly tortured in police custody. 

    The arrest and charging of peaceful protesters and allegations of torture and ill-treatment, clearly contravene Bangladesh obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. Our organisations also believe that the violent actions of the police at these protests are inconsistent with international human rights standards on the use of force such as the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement, and that the failure to take appropriate measures to prevent and punish harm caused by private actors, such as the BCL, also contravenes Bangladesh’s international human rights obligations.

    Many of the issues above were also raised at the Human Rights Council during Bangladesh’s recent Universal Periodic Review in May 2018, and received support from your government. Protecting civic freedoms is also part of Bangladesh’s commitments under Agenda 2030 and these violations highlight that the country is failing abysmally to meet targets set under Sustainable Development Goal 16 on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, and particularly target 16:10 to “protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”.

    Therefore, we urge your government to take the following steps as a matter of priority:

    • Immediately and unconditionally release all protesters who have been arbitrarily detained for exercising their human rights, in particular photographer Shahidul Alam, and drop all charges against them;
    • Carry out prompt, impartial, independent and efficient investigations into all complaints and reports of excessive use of force by the police, as well as attacks by non-state actors, against protesters and journalists, bring those responsible to justice and provide reparations to the victims;
    • Review and amend all laws that restrict freedom of expression, such as section 57 of the 2006 Information and Communication Technology Act;
    • Send a clear message to members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) and other non-state actors that violence by them will not be tolerated;
    • Create a safe and enabling environment for activists, civil society and citizens to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly without intimidation, harassment, arrest or prosecution.

    We express our sincere hope that you will consider and implement these recommendations. 

    Sincerely, 

    David E. Kode
, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead
, CIVICUS
    Ichal Supriadi
, Secretary General, 
Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
    Basil Fernando, Director, Policy and Programme, 
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
    Henri Tiphagne
, Executive Director, 
People’s Watch
    Mathew Jacob
, National Coordinator, 
Human Rights Defenders Alert – India (HRDA)
    John Samuel, 
Executive Director, 
Forum Asia (Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development)

     

  • Bangladesh: Stifling expression using Digital Security Act must not be the norm to address COVID-19 pandemic

     
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    A Joint Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission and CIVICUS

    The Bangladesh government has resorted once again to its notorious Digital Security Act-2018 to muzzle freedom of expression, arresting 11 individuals following criticism of the governments’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    Four people have been detained since 5 May 2020 under the draconian digital law, including cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, writer Mushtaq Ahmed, IT specialist Md. Didarul Islam Bhuyan, and Dhaka Stock Exchange Director Minhaz Mannan Emon. A further seven people have been charged. 

    All four detainees were forcibly disappeared for hours after they were picked up by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) from different locations in Dhaka on 5 May 2020. Following a social media outcry, the RAB officially handed them over to the Metropolitan police on 6 May at around 7:45 PM, and a case under the Digital Security Act was filed against them by Abu Bakar Siddique, the Deputy Assistant Director of RAB. They remain in detention.

    The seven other individuals accused in the same case are Tasneem Khalil, Editor-in-Chief of Netra News, which the government has blocked in Bangladesh since it was launched last year from Sweden; Saer Zulkarnain; Shahed Alam; Ashik Imran; Shapan Wahed; Philip Schuhmacher; and Asif Mohiuddin, a blogger of Bangladeshi origin living in Germany.

    All 11 have been charged under various provisions of the Digital Security Act including ‘propaganda or campaign against liberation war’ and ‘publishing, sending of offensive, false or fear inducing data-information’. Authorities have confirmed that the charges relate to allegedly ‘spreading rumours’ over the coronavirus pandemic on social media. If convicted, they could each face up to seven years in jail. 

    The Digital Security Act, passed in October 2018 to replace the often-misused Information and Communication Technology Act, included harsher provisions that have been used to penalize criticism of the government. The law gives the power to security agencies to hold individuals indefinitely in pretrial detention. And, it has created a chilling effect among activists and journalists. Despite repeated calls to bring the law in line with Bangladesh’s international commitments to protect freedom of expression, the government has refused to revise the law.

    In times of crisis, people’s health depends at minimum on access to information both off and online. Silencing journalists and activists and blocking websites, is not an effective public health strategy. We urge the authorities to end its use of restrictive laws to silence critics and amid the pandemic ensure the right to seek, receive, and share information relevant to the COVID-19 outbreak.

    We further call on the government of Bangladesh to immediately release the detained critics and drop the charges brought against them and seven other individuals under repressive legislation. The COVID-19 pandemic is not an excuse to use state forces to stifle freedom of expression.

     

    Background:

    The pandemic has exposed failings by the government in addressing a public health emergency. Patients with symptoms of COVID-19 were denied access to public and private hospitals and died without treatment. The country’s healthcare system failed to provide adequate protective equipment and necessary infrastructures in hospitals to treat the pandemic. Within weeks, hundreds of doctors and nurses were infected with COVID-19, according to the Bangladesh Medical Association. 

    Persistent suppression of freedom of expression and censorship under the government of Sheikh Hasina has continued amid the pandemic. The authorities have blocked international news outlet Al-Jazeera and numerous other news portals and websites critical of the state. A monitoring body established by the Ministry of Information to monitor if private television channels were “running any propaganda or rumours about the novel coronavirus outbreak” was scrapped after public outcry.

    Due to the muzzling of the press by the authorities, social media has become the preferred platform for those critical of the regime. In response, the police and the RAB have started picking up people for their Facebook posts. On 10th of April 2020, it was reported that at least 50 people were arrested in the country for allegedly spreading rumors. The government has also blocked dozens of websites and Facebook profiles as of late March after the government officially acknowledged the COVID-19 outbreak. Healthcare workers, who spoke out about the problems they have been facing, have been barred from talking to media

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates the space for civil society in Bangladesh as repressed.

     

     

  • Bangladesh: Two years on, impunity for attacks against student protesters

    Two years since student protest movements mobilised in Bangladesh, there is still no accountability for human rights violations against protesters.

    Crushing Student Protests,’ a new report launched today by civil society groups Front Line Defenders, CIVICUS and South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), highlights the use of excessive force, arbitrary arrests and allegations of torture and ill-treatment by the Bangladesh security forces during the protests, as well as attacks by non-state actors perpetrated with impunity against the students.

    In April 2018, senior students from universities mobilised to call for reform in the quota system for government jobs. Three months later, in July and August, junior students from schools and colleges led protests demanding public transport safety reform after students were killed in traffic accidents.

    Law enforcement agencies responded to both movements with excessive force. Protesters reported that the police attacked them with teargas, rubber bullets and high pressure hot water cannons. Unidentified armed individuals believed to be members of the student wing of the ruling party, known as the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), operated as an auxiliary force to Bangladeshi security forces to attack protesters with wooden logs, sticks, iron rods, and sharp weapons. They used social media to intimidate, harass and threaten protest leaders and organizers.

    An activist from Jagannath University in Sadarghat, Dhaka said that on 20 April 2018, he was attacked by BCL members: “They accosted me and dragged me to a corner. There were 12 people, and they beat me up, and cut my lip…They beat me until I was senseless and left me there.”

    Police also arbitrarily arrested protesters and filed multiple cases against them without specifying names, detaining students at will. Some reported torture and ill-treatment in detention.

    One activist arrested on 1 July 2018 in the Bhasantek area of Dhaka related his experience of being beaten up for a full day by security forces. “They made me lie down on the floor, with my arms handcuffed, and several policemen beat me with rods,” he said. “I bled on the floor, and they made the others detained clean the floor.”

    Bangladeshi journalists also were assaulted and detained as part of government efforts to control the narrative and silence critical voices.

    One of those arrested was 63 year old Shahidul Alam, a well-known photojournalist and activist. He was detained by plainclothes policemen on 5 August 2018, hours after giving an interview to Al Jazeera English on the student protests and charged a day later under the Information and Communication Technology Act for making "false" and "provocative" statements. Alam told reporters that he had been beaten in police custody.

    “The failure to hold anyone accountable for the violence against protesters points to deeply ingrained impunity in Bangladesh. We demand a prompt and independent investigation into all reports of violence by the police and nonstate actors against human rights defenders, journalists and protesters, and for those responsible to be brought to justice,” said Sultana Kamal, noted Bangladeshi Human Rights Defender and Chairperson of SAHR.

    “The police must drop all charges against the student human rights defenders and protesters and review the convictions of protesters and other individuals prosecuted for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Roshmi Goswami, SAHR bureau member from India who took part in the joint international mission.

    The crackdown occurred just prior to elections held later in 2018, indicating the kind of actions the ruling party was, and remains willing, to take to hold its grip on power.

    Long after the protests stopped, many student activists, their friends and family members continue to face surveillance, intimidation and harassment, effectively silencing future dissent. Social media has been deployed to intimidate and smear human rights defenders and civil society groups that supported the protests. 

    A prominent activist was attacked eight times after the protest movement ended. Another protest organizer has been routinely stalked by members of the National Security Intelligence (NSI).

    “The authorities must end all forms of harassment, intimidation and surveillance against those involved in organising, participating or supporting the protests and ensure a safe and enabling environment for protest leaders to carry out their activism without fear of reprisals,” said Andrew Anderson, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders.

    The crackdown on the protests is indicative of a broader pattern of aggression and attacks by the government against critics to silence dissent. The now defunct Information Communication and Technology (ICT) Act, and its successor, the Digital Security Act, have been used to restrict freedom of expression while human rights activists, journalists and government critics have been charged or convicted for speaking up and, in some cases, forcibly disappeared.

    “The Digital Security Act criminalizes many forms of freedom of expression and imposes heavy fines and prison sentences for legitimate forms of dissent. It is incompatible with international law and standards and should be amended immediately,” said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead at CIVICUS.

    The human rights violations documented in this report around the protests are inconsistent with Bangladesh’s Constitution and the country’s international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and other international laws and standards. Despite the fact that many of these issues have been raised by states, the Bangladesh authorities have failed to address them.


    Front Line Defenders is the Ireland-based international human rights organization that works for the security and protection of human rights defenders at risk (HRDs) around the world.

    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa and dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. 

    South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) is a democratic regional network with a large membership base of people committed to addressing human rights issues at both national and regional levels. SAHR seeks to contribute to the realisation of South Asian peoples’ right to participatory democracy, good governance and justice by strengthening regional response, including regional instruments, monitoring human rights violations, reviewing laws, policies and practices that have an adverse impact on human rights and conducting campaigns and programmes on issues of major concern in the region.


    Civic space in Bangladesh is currently rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Countries that require the attention of the UN Human Rights Council

    39th Session of the Human Rights Council
    Oral Statement  

    Members of the CIVICUS Alliance in Zimbabwe have expressed grave concern for the authorities’ heavy-handed response to protests in Harare one day after presidential elections were held. Military personnel deployed in response to the protests shot live bullets at protesters, killing at least 6 and injuring many others. We call on the government of Zimbabwe to conduct a prompt, credible and impartial investigation in the excessive and lethal use of force during the course of these demonstrations.

    In Bahrain, SALAM for Democracy & Human Rights, a member of the CIVICUS Alliance, has documented cases of arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders. All major opposition parties have now been dissolved and stripped of their assets. We are equally concerned that security personnel continue to wilfully arrest, physically assault and even kill demonstrators for exercising their legitimate right to public dissent. We urge the Council going to hold the government of Bahrain fully accountable for any violations of its international obligations.

    Finally, Mr. President, in Bangladesh, over the past year, authorities have used a rage of repressive laws to target and harass journalists and human rights defenders, restrict freedom of assembly and carry out enforced disappearances of opposition supporters ahead of national elections scheduled for late 2018. We call on the government of Bangladesh to drop all unwarranted charges and end the persecution of individuals and groups for exercising their fundamental rights.

     

  • Country recommendations on civic space for the UN´s Universal Periodic Review

    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 9 countries in advance of the 30th UPR session (May 2018). The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations. Countries examined include: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Colombia, Cuba, Djibouti, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan:

    Bangladesh (Individual/Joint): In this UPR, CIVICUS draws attention to a range of legislative restrictions which have been strengthened and imposed to curtail the operation of independent civic groups in Bangladesh. Of particular concern, are new restrictions on groups seeking funds from abroad, as well the repeated use of the penal code to arrest HRDs and place blanket bans on meetings and assemblies. We further examine the spate of extrajudicial killings against secular bloggers and LGBTI activists which is illustrative of Bangladesh’s downward spiral with respect to civic freedoms and systemic failure to protect civil society.

    Burkina Faso (EN/FR): CIVICUS, the Burkinabé Coalition of Human Rights Defenders and the West African Human Right Defenders Network examine unwarranted limitations on freedom of expression and assembly. Despite several positive developments since the popular uprising of 2014, such as the decriminalisation of defamation and the adoption of a law on the protection of human right defenders, restrictions on the freedom of expression including suspensions of media outlets by the national media regulator and attacks and threats against journalists continue.

    Cameroon: CIVICUS, Réseau des Défenseurs Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC) and the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) highlight Cameroon’s fulfilment of the right to association, assembly and expression and unwarranted persecution of human rights defenders since its previous UPR examination.  We assess the ongoing judicial persecution and detention of human rights defenders on trumped up charges, the use of anti-terrorism legislation to target journalists and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters.  

    Colombia(EN/SP): CIVICUS highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders, social leaders and unions workers who are routinely subject to physical attacks, targeted assassinations, harassment and intimidation by state and non-state actors. CIVICUS examines the increased number of attacks against journalists as well as the government’s lack of effective implementation of protection mechanisms to safeguard the work of journalists and human rights defenders.

    Cuba (EN/SP): CIVICUS and the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) highlight the constitutional, legal and de facto obstacles to the exercise of the basic freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. The submission discusses the situation of CSOs, HRDs, journalists and bloggers, who face harassment, criminalisation, arbitrary arrests, searches of their homes and offices and reprisals for interacting with UN and OAS human rights institutions. The submission further examines the multiple ways in which dissent is stifled both in the streets and in the media, offline and online. 

    Djibouti (EN/FR): CIVICUS, Defend Defenders and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) submission describes how the government of Djibouti has patently ignored the 14 recommendations made during the second UPR cycle related to the protection of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. Instead, in the intervening period, authorities in Djibouti have continued their campaign against dissent, regularly detaining human rights defenders, journalists and trade union activists because of their criticism of the government or human rights activists.  

    Russia: CIVICUS and Citizens’ Watch address concerns regarding the adoption and application of several draconian laws that have resulted in the expulsion and closure of numerous CSOs and restrictions on the activities of countless others. The submission also lays out the increasing criminalisation and persecution of dissenting views by means of growing restrictions, in both law and practice, on the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. 

    Turkmenistan: CIVICUS highlights restrictions to freedom of association in Turkmenistan including recent amendments to the 2014 Law on Public Associations which further limit CSOs’ ability to register, operate independently and receive funding from international sources. Additionally, we assess the use of the arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders as well as unwarranted limitations to online and offline freedom of expression.

    Uzbekistan: CIVICUS, The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia and the International Partnership for Human Rights assess the conditions of freedom of association, assembly and expression in Uzbekistan. We highlight the lack of progress made in implementing recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle. It particular, we note that although there have been some notable improvements to the environment for civic space, the situation for human rights activists and journalists remains deeply constrained.

     

  • Leave no person with disabilities behind

    By Leave No One Behind Partneship and ADD International

    Pushpa Rani had pneumonia when she was eight years old, which left her extremely weak. Eventually, she lost all movement in her legs. Pushpa joined a women's self-help group, and later a disabled person's organisation, supported by Action on Disability and Development (ADD) International.

     

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