19 nonprofits urge Bangladesh to drop charges against human rights activists

Dhaka, Aug 10 (EFE).- Nineteen human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, on Thursday urged Bangladeshi authorities to drop “politically motivated” charges against the leaders of local rights group, Odhikar, 10 years after their persecution began.

“The Bangladesh authorities should cease their continued criminalization and harassment of Bangladesh human rights group, Odhikar,” the organizations said in a statement as the trial against the Odhikar activists neared its end.

Odhikar’s secretary, Adilur Rahman Khan, was detained on Aug. 10, 2013 after the group published a fact-finding report on extrajudicial killings and excessive use of force to disperse a protest by the Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam in Bangladesh.

At least 58 people, including seven members of the security forces, were killed in violence related to the protests by Hefazat, which claims to be a non-political group, on May 5 and 6 in 2013, according to Human Rights Watch.

Khan’s whereabouts were unknown for several hours after his detention until the police filed a case against him under a controversial cyber law.

Khan was held in custody for 62 days, while Odhikar director Nasiruddin Elan, who was detained later, was held in custody for 25 days until their release on bail.

“Ten years later, Khan and Elan continue to be prosecuted for trumped-up allegations of publishing ‘fake, distorted and defamatory’ material,” the rights groups said in Thursday’s statement.

The organizations said that Khan and Ela’s lawyers have alleged judicial harassment at the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka, saying that it has unduly favored the prosecution.

Despite having appeared for all scheduled hearings at the Cyber Tribunal, Khan and Elan were sometimes forced to stand in cages, according to the statement.

“Ten years after Khan’s abduction, closing arguments will be heard in Khan and Elan’s case, and their sentencing of up to ten years of imprisonment if convicted is imminent,” the groups said.

“We are in the court today for closing arguments. We will seek a fresh date for the hearing. If it is not granted, the trial will end now, and the verdict will come anytime,” Elan said.

According to the nonprofits, both Khan and Elan have been denied their right to a fair trial and demonized by the government throughout this case, which has served to continuously criticize their human rights work.

“We stand with both courageous human rights defenders and urge the Bangladeshi government to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against them,” the rights groups.

The Asian Human Rights Commission and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights are among the signatories of the statement.

On June 5, 2022, Bangladeshi authorities deregistered Odhikar as a non-government organization, accusing it of publication “misleading information” on enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions in the country. EFE


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