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BANGLADESH: Oppression of free speech must end

A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission

BANGLADESH: Oppression of free speech must end

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is concerned about the continued and arbitrary detention of Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan Secretary of Odhikar. The AHRC has learned that the government has introduced new allegations against Mr. Nasiruddin Elan, the Director of Odhikar, in an attempt to detain Elan as well, so as to absolutely cripple the functioning of the organisation.

Condemning the arbitrary arrest and detention of Adilur, the AHRC, along with other human rights organisations across the world, has issued statements calling upon the Government of Bangladesh not to stifle whistle-blowers and to abstain from misusing law and procedure to circumscribe free opinion and the freedom of professionals in the country. The AHRC has also issued an Urgent Appeal concerning Adilur's arrest.

It is reported that on 5 September 2013, the police filed a First Information Report and case diary at the Metropolitan Magistrate's Court requesting the Court to frame charges against Adilur and Elan. It is reported that the allegation is that Adilur and Elan have 'direct and active involvement in the preparation, publication and dissemination of a report' concerning the murder of civilians in Bangladesh by the government and the members of the ruling political coalition. The case against Adilur and Elan is reportedly registered for offences punishable under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act, 2006. The police also allege that Adilur and Elan, as persons responsible for the functioning of Odhikar, have published false images and information that has the potential to disrupt law and order in the country.

The Metropolitan Magistrate is expected to accept the allegation and issue an arrest warrant against Elan. If the past is any indicator, it is most likely that the Magistrate will comply with the police request, in which case Elan could be arrested anytime.

The government, state-sponsored media, and representatives of the ruling political alliance have spared no opportunity in portraying Adilur's arrest and the crackdown upon Odhikar as a legitimate state action against an organisation that has published questionable information. The mainstream debate in Bangladesh arising out of Adilur's arrest has also so far focused on the correctness of the information provided in Odhikar's report. The fact, however, is that the state and the state media is only using the publication of the report as an excuse to smother the day-to-day functioning of a globally reputed human rights organisation.

Odhikar is one of those organisations in Bangladesh that has consistently taken up positions against governments, irrespective of their political architecture, whenever governments in Bangladesh have abused authority and the process of law to violate the human rights of the people. The arrest and detention of Adilur and the repressive state actions against Odhikar, including a search and recovery at its office, and the seizure of documents in electronic and print form, are mere government gestures of telling Odhikar, other independent human rights groups, and the media, that no one in Bangladesh will be allowed to report matters the government does not wish to be spoken about.

The prevailing culture of authoritarianism entertained by the government, supported by armed state forces and the police, which enjoys impunity in the country, is a central challenge against establishment of better human rights conditions in Bangladesh. In this administrative landscape, where constitutional guarantees are narrowed to mere political and financial influences, the absence of a strong and independent organ of the state like the judiciary has caused serious deficit to human rights guarantees. The space available for independent administration of justice based on the principle of the rule of law has suffered the worst in Bangladesh in the past few years. Odhikar is the latest victim.

The AHRC condemns the state action and calls upon the Government of Bangladesh to immediately put an end to its repressive tactics. The AHRC requests the government to repeal all the charges against Odhikar and its representatives. If at all the government has concerns about the facts and circumstances that led to the 5 May 2013 violence in Bangladesh, they must be answered by an independent investigation and adjudication process that enquires into the incident and not by asphyxiating those who dare speak against state-sponsored oppression.


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