Bangladesh: Odhikar faces another blow as government upholds de-registration decision

The decision by the Prime Minister’s Office of Bangladesh to uphold the de-registration of prominent human rights organisation Odhikar is appalling and demonstrates the government’s ongoing efforts to crush the organisation and stifle human rights work in the country, CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance said today.

Our organisation stands in solidarity with Odhikar and its staff and urges the government of Bangladesh to rescind this decision and uphold the right to freedom of association in accordance with international human rights law and standards.

Odhikar was founded in 1994 by a group of human rights activists and the organisation’s work includes documentation of human rights violations and enforced disappearances as well as engagement with international human rights mechanisms.

On 1 September 2022, the Prime Minister’s office upheld the order issued on 5 June by the NGO Affairs Bureau, a body responsible for regulating non-governmental organisations(NGOs) under the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, to decline Odhikar’s registration renewal request following an appeal hearing on 3 August 2022. A request for renewal of the organisation's registration had been pending since 2015, until recently when the NGO Affairs Bureau arbitrarily revoked it. The Bureau said that Odhikar had published “misleading information” on extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Bangladesh.

"The decision of the Prime Minister’s office to uphold the de-registration of Odhikar is another shameful stain to the already appalling human rights record of Bangladesh. It is a blow to civil society and the right to freedom of association and sends a chilling message to those who are critical of the state," said Cornelius Hanung, Asia Advocacy and Campaigns Officer at CIVICUS.

The crackdown on Odhikar is happening on multiple fronts including smear campaigns and surveillance. This has escalated following US sanctions imposed against the notorious Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) for its abuses. Two of Odhikar’s leaders, Secretary Adilur Rahman Khan and Director ASM Nasiruddin Elan are facing allegations of violating Section 57 of the 2006 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act for “publishing in electronic forms fake, obscene, prurient materials or materials defamatory to state of religion or an individual.’ The allegations stemmed from a fact-finding report issued by Odhikar in 2013 about extrajudicial killings by Bangladesh authorities, which highlighted the deaths of 61 persons under security forces’ armed operation on 5 and 6 May 2013 in Dhaka.

The actions against Odhikar exemplify the hostile environment faced by human rights defenders in Bangladesh, including incidents of vilification and attacks by state actors. Many have also been criminalised with the use of restrictive laws such as the Digital Security Act (DSA). In her recent visit in August 2022, the former High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also highlighted the use of laws and policies over-regulating NGOs which broadly restrict fundamental freedoms and hinder them from operating effectively.

As the state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the government of Bangladesh must uphold the right to freedom of association and other fundamental freedoms in the country. The harassment against Odhikar is a clear violation that must be halted.

“The Bangladeshi government must reverse this egregious decision and take steps to create an enabling environment for civil society to work without facing reprisals. Further sanctions must be imposed by the international community if it fails to comply,” Cornelius Hanung said.

 Civic space in Bangladesh is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor 



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