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Adilur's Arrest a Punishment & Threat To Civil Society

Bangladesh: Adilur's Arrest, a Punishment and Threat to the Civil Society

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) condemns the arrest and detention of Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, Secretary of Odhikar. The police arrested Adilur on 10 August at around 10:20 p.m. And on 11 August, at around 8 p.m., the Detective Branch of Dhaka Metropolitan Police raided Odhikar's office, seizing documents and computers.

The arrest and detention of Adilur, and the raid at Odhikar's office, is, by all means, a calculated, unforgiving, and condemnable assault upon the professional freedom and integrity of a human rights defender and the organisation he represents by the Government of Bangladesh. It is an insult and assault upon the civil society in the country, against which everyone who is concerned about the systemic negation of the rule of law in Bangladesh must respond.

The AHRC had issued a statement concerning Adilur’s predicament within hours of his arrest, requesting the Government of Bangladesh to release Adilur from custody. The statement released on 10 August is available here. The AHRC has also issued an Urgent Appeal in the case, which is available here.

The malice behind the arrest and raid is visible from the fact that on 10 August, when the police arrested Adilur, they were not certain what charges they would pursue against him. The Gulshan Police Station, the jurisdiction where Adilur resides with his family in Dhaka, did not have any complaints against Adilur as of mid-night 10 August 2013. Later, the police claimed that they had arrested Adilur under Section 54 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (Cr.P.C.) and for offences punishable under the Information and Communication Technology Act, 2006.

On 11 August, at about 1:20 p.m., the police presented Adilur at the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court. In court, the Public Prosecutor read out a complaint, made by police officer, Mr. Mohammad Ashraful Islam, serving at the Detective Branch (North) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police.

The police case refers to two General Diary entries. They are entry number 268, dated 10 August 2013, and 514, dated 10 August 2013. The second entry is made at Gulshan Police Station. However, the Gulshan Police Station, as of midnight on 10 August, did not have any official records concerning a complaint against Adilur. This, among others, suggests that manipulation of records is already taking place to legalise the arrest.

In court, the prosecution further claimed that the police are likely to register a case against Adilur for offences punishable under Sub-sections 51 (1) and (2) of the Information and Communication Technology Act, 2006. The complaint against Adilur, the details of which have now been made available to his lawyers, allege that the government suspects Adilur to be directly or indirectly involved in committing cognizable offences.

The government opposed Adilur being released on bail and requested the court to allow Adilur to be handed over to the police for ten days police custody. The court, after considering the bail application and the request by the government for police custody, remanded Adilur to police custody for five days.

Today, the High Court Division of the Supreme Court, after accepting a petition filed on behalf of Adilur, has stayed the police remand and has directed, that the police, if required, could question Adilur "at the gate of the prison." While it is a relief to understand that a higher court has stayed the police remand, in Bangladesh that Adilur is still in custody is a matter of serious concern. The Court has also issued a 'rule' to the government, why Adilur should not be released on bail.

From the facts available through Adilur's lawyers, the AHRC understands that Adilur is now in judicial remand. Yet, being in judicial remand only shifts the responsibility of Adilur's safety to the judiciary, and does not categorically rule out the possibility of he being injured, tortured, or worse, murdered in custody, since such events are common in the country.

Neither does a judicial remand justify the arrest and detention of a well-respected human rights defender and a senior lawyer for reasons that his organisation published reports that the incumbent government in the country is not happy with. The arrest and detention of Adilur and the raid at Odhikar's office is unshakable proof to the fact, that the government at will misuses laws, procedures and institutions in Bangladesh.

Adilur is the former Deputy Attorney General of Bangladesh and a senior practicing lawyer at the country's Supreme Court. The casual nature with which the Magistrate has remanded Adilur in police custody, for a crime that the prosecution alleges, is yet to be identified, shows that the Magistrate was not acting independently, but was complying with the government's demand. Jurisprudence available in Bangladesh itself prohibits such callous dealing of arrest and detention under Section 54 of the Cr.P.C.

In BLAST (petitioner) against Government of Bangladesh and others (respondents), reported in 55 Dhaka Law Reporter page 363, the Court has defined that the power of arrest and detention under Section 54 of the Cr.P.C., available to the state is subject to restrictions.

Defining the scope of the Section, the court said: "f a person is arrested on ‘reasonable suspicion’, the police officer must record the reasons on which his suspicion is based. If the police officer justifies the arrest only by saying that the person is suspected to be involved in a cognizable offence, such general statement cannot justify the arrest. A police officer can exercise power if he has a definite knowledge of the existence of some offence and such knowledge shall be the basis of arrest without warrant. There can be knowledge of anything only if the thing exists. If a person is arrested on the basis of suitable information, the reason of the information must be disclosed by the police officer and also the reason why he believed in such information".

The manner in which the police arrested Adilur, and the subsequent raid at Odhikar's office, strongly suggest that the state action is that of vengeance coupled with intimidation, stemming out from the Odhikar's publication of a fact-finding report relating to the 5-6 May 2013 violence in Bangladesh. The complete version of the report is available here. Upon publication of the report, the government contacted Odhikar, seeking details of the persons who spoke to Odhikar. Odhikar, sensing state repression against persons who spoke against the violence, in which 61 persons are suspected to be murdered, replied by stating that the organisation is concerned about the safety of those who have spoken and would provide such details only to an independent inquiry commission and not to the government.

That the government, which allegedly sponsored the violence carried out across Bangladesh with the support of criminals associated with the ruling coalition and with state agencies, has been seeking information about those who spoke to an NGO about the violence, exposes the government's intention to silence anyone speaking against the incumbent regime. This argument, based on deep and justified distrust against the government, is clearly visible in the communication between Odhikar and the Government. Copies of the two related letters are available here: letter of Information Ministry and Odhikar's reply to Information Ministry.

Adilur's life is in serious danger, especially if he continues to remain in custody. The Government of Bangladesh, its policing establishment, and the lower judiciary that often operates under military supervision is well-equipped to undertake, and rather notorious for, torture and deaths in custody. A government and its establishments that have systematically smothered voices of freedom, dignity, and justice in Bangladesh cannot be trusted with the life and security of a human rights defender, who is globally known to have critiqued the incumbent government against its human rights abuses.

A section of the country's media that is corrupt and operating at the whims of the incumbent government is carrying out a systematic propaganda campaign against Adilur and Odhikar, accusing the organisation and its employees as 'right-wing sympathisers.' They have repeatedly spoken on behalf of the government and have concurred with the government's threat to civil society – that none should support Odhikar or assist Adilur in securing freedom.

The AHRC is of the opinion that such organised stifling of human rights activists and lawyers must immediately stop in Bangladesh. The AHRC, along with its global partners, call upon the civil society of Bangladesh to protest against this restricting of professional freedom in the country. The AHRC hopes that a sense of commonness and dignity will prevail upon the civil society in the Bangladesh, and that professional bodies like the Supreme Court Bar Association will join hands with the global civil society in fighting against such excesses of the incumbent and oppressive government in power in Bangladesh.

The AHRC believes that the Office of the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders will intervene in this case. It is, however, also the responsibility of the governments in the region to encourage the Government of Bangladesh to end its activities currently focussed on silencing all forms of perceived opposition.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.


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