(January 18, 2017 | Washington, D.C.) Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights condemns the decision by the Bangladesh High Court Division of the Supreme Court to allow the case against Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan to go forward. Mr. Khan is the Secretary of Odhikar, one of the most respected human rights organizations in Bangladesh, and was the recipient of the 2014 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award; Mr. Elan is Odhikar’s Director. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights calls on the government of Bangladesh to drop the baseless charges against the two human rights advocates immediately.
The charges against Mr. Khan and Mr. Elan stem from Odhikar’s publication of a report documenting extrajudicial killings by security forces during a protest in May, 2013. In August, 2013, both men were arrested and arbitrarily detained. Mr. Khan was held for 62 days before finally being released on bail; Mr. Elan was detained for 25 days before being released. Both men were charged under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act of 2006, which criminalizes “publishing fake, obscene or defaming information in electronic form.”
“Adil and Nasiruddin have done nothing even remotely criminal,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “They have exposed the brutal killing of peaceful protesters by security forces. These revelations should have sparked investigations and accountability, but instead the government is protecting the perpetrators and using the courts to harass and silence human rights defenders. These charges must be dropped immediately.”
The case against Mr. Khan and Mr. Elan had been on hold since January 2014, when the High Court granted a stay in the case. In the ruling from January 9, 2017, the High Court lifted the stay and directed the Cyber Crimes Tribunal to move forward with the prosecution. On January 10, 2017, lawyers for Mr. Khan and Mr. Elan filed an appeal challenging the decision. The Appellate Division granted a four-week stay of the High Court’s decision, pending a hearing.
“The application of the ICT Act to target human rights defenders for carrying out legitimate human rights work runs contrary to Bangladesh’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” said David McKean, Asia Program Officer for RFKennedy Partners for Human Rights. “Instead of prosecuting human rights defenders, the government of Bangladesh should work with Odhikar and the victims of human rights abuses to identify perpetrators and pursue accountability.”