Our Voices

Bangladesh: Quash conviction and release rights defenders

(September 14, 2023) Bangladesh authorities should immediately release human rights defenders Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, quash their convictions, and end all reprisals against them for their legitimate human rights work, said 72 organizations today. Khan and Elan were sentenced by the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka to two years’ of prison and a 10,000 Bangladeshi Taka fine each in retaliation for their work documenting human rights violations in Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh Government has persistently targeted and launched a smear campaign against Khan and Elan, the secretary and director, respectively, of prominent Bangladeshi human rights organization Odhikar. Following the 2013 publication of Odhikar’s fact-finding report documenting extrajudicial killings during a protest, both defenders were arbitrarily detained – Khan for 62 and Elan for 25 days. After being released on bail, they continued to face prosecution and judicial harassment on trumped-up allegations that their 2013 report was “fake, distorted, and defamatory.”


After years of stalling, Bangladeshi judicial authorities accelerated the hearings in their case following the designation of US sanctions against the country’s notoriously abusive paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and its officials in December 2021, blaming human rights organizations like Odhikar for this outcome. Their case has been marred with due process violations, such as the failure to provide the defense with advance information on the prosecution witnesses or a copy of the Criminal Investigation Department’s further investigation report until the day before a hearing.


In addition to targeting Odhikar’s leaders, the Government interfered with the organization’s ability to conduct its human rights work by blocking their access to funds and leaving its registration renewal application pending since 2014. Following the US sanction designations, the Government increased surveillance and harassment against those affiliated with Odhikar and ordered the organization to provide sources and proof for its findings of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. On June 5, 2022, the Government’s NGO Affairs Bureau officially denied Odhikar’s application for renewal, stating that the organization’s publications have “seriously tarnished the image of the state to the world.”


The Government then continued to besmirch the organization publicly, even criticizing and questioning the credibility of the US Department of State’s 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices: Bangladesh for relying on Odhikar’s documentation. UN human rights experts have expressed their concerns over the Government’s actions, stating that “the defamation of Bangladeshi-based human rights organisations by high-profile public figures is a clear attempt to undermine their credibility, reputation and human rights work in the country.”


Human rights defenders should be allowed to conduct their necessary and important work without fear of harassment, intimidation, and reprisals. Instead of prosecuting and punishing those who document and expose human rights violations, the Government should investigate and hold the perpetrators of these violations accountable.


We stand with Khan and Elan and urge the authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally, as they have been detained solely for their human rights work. The authorities should reverse their convictions, and ensure they are able to continue their human rights documenting and reporting without fear of reprisals.


Signed:

  • Advocacy Forum Nepal

  • Amnesty International

  • Anti-Death Penalty Asian Network (ADPAN)

  • Asia Alliance Against Torture (A3T)

  • Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)

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

  • Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)

  • Association of Family Members of the Disappeared, Sri Lanka

  • Asociacion Pro Busqueda de Ninas y Ninos Desaparecidos, El Salvador

  • AwazCDS-Pakistan

  • BALAOD Mindanaw

  • Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)

  • Belarusian Solidarity Foundation

  • Bir Duino, Kyrgyzstan

  • Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)

  • Capital Punishment Justice Project, Australia

  • Centre for the Sustainable use of Natural and Social Resources (CSNR), Bhubaneswar, India

  • Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR)

  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

  • Civil society and Human Rights Network (CSHRN)

  • Collectifs des Familles de Disparus en Algérie

  • Defence for Human Rights Pakistan (DHR)

  • Desaparecidos – Philippines

  • Eleos Justice, Monash University, Australia

  • Euro-Mediterranean Federation Against Enforced Disappearances (FEMED), France

  • Families of the Disappeared (FOD), Sri Lanka

  • Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND)

  • FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

  • Forum ONG Timor-leste

  • Free Jonas Burgos Movement

  • HAK Association, Timor-leste

  • Human Rights Alert, Manipur, India

  • Human Rights First

  • Human Rights Hub, Sri Lanka

  • Human Rights Watch

  • Indonesian Association of Families of the Disappeared Families (IKOHI)

  • Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI – Indonesia)

  • Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI)

  • Indonesia’s NGO Coalition for International Human Rights Advocacy (HRWG)

  • INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, Sri Lanka

  • Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) – Indonesia

  • International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED)

  • International Federation of ACATs (FIACAT)

  • International Legal Initiative (ILI) – Kazakhstan

  • International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

  • JAAWABODA KENDRAYA (J. K.), Sri Lanka

  • Karapatan Alliance Philippines (KARAPATAN)

  • Karnali Integrated Rural Development And research Centre ( KIRDARC ) Nepal

  • Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees (FEDEFAM)

  • Legal Literacy – Nepal

  • Liga Guatemalteca de Higiene Mental

  • Madres de Plaza de Mayo – Linea Fundadora, Argentina

  • Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)

  • Martin Ennals Foundation

  • National Fisheries Solidarity Organization, Sri Lanka

  • Negombo Citizens’ Committee (N.C.C.)

  • Nonviolence International Canada

  • Pakistan Development Alliance

  • People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD)

  • Programme against custodial torture & Impunity (PACTI)

  • Public Association “Dignity”, Kazakhstan, Astana

  • Pusat KOMAS, Malaysia

  • Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

  • Sindhi Foundation

  • Task Force Detainees of the Philippines

  • The Awakening, Pakistan

  • The Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS)

  • The Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (IMPARSIAL)

  • Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, Washington DC

  • We Remember-Belarus

  • Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC)

  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders