Crime & Justice

Bangladesh court grants bail to prominent rights defenders amid global criticism

Dhaka, Oct 10 (EFE). – A Bangladesh court on Tuesday granted bail to prominent activists of the human rights group Odhikar, nearly a month after they were sentenced to two years in jail for allegedly publishing “misleading information.”

On Sep.14, the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal had imposed the jail term and a fine of 10,000 takas ($90) on Odhikar secretary Adilur Rahman Khan and director Nasir Uddin Elan, leading to criticism from the international community.

Justice Emdadul Hoque Azad of the Bangladesh High Court on Tuesday suspended the fine as well as the imprisonment of the activists, paving the way for their release.

The activists’ lawyer, Mohammad Ruhul Amin, confirmed the development, saying the court also accepted their joint appeal against the sentences of his clients.

“Since there is no other case pending against them now, they should be released after today’s bail order,” Amin told EFE.

The sentence had been condemned by the international community, including the United States and rights watchdogs, among others.

The US underlined that the sentencing of activists would “further undermine the willingness of human rights defenders and civil society to play their vital democratic role.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International had decried the order of the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal as an attempt to scare off human rights defenders.

Khan and Elan were convicted in relation to a case under the now-repealed Information and Communication Technology Act 2006 for publishing a report on Odhikar’s website about the number of deaths during the police crackdown on a rally of the Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam in May 2013.

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

Khan was detained on Aug. 10, 2013 after the group published the fact-finding report and kept in custody for 62 days, while Odhikar director Elan, who was arrested later, was held for 25 days. Both were later released on bail.

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

The recent High Court order releasing the right defenders has come amid growing pressure from the international community to halt their trial.

The European Parliament had on Sep. 13 called on the Bangladesh government to “immediately and unconditionally drop all charges” against the activists and reinstate its registration.

Nineteen human rights groups, including HRW and Amnesty, urged Bangladeshi authorities on Aug. 10 to drop “politically motivated” charges against the leaders of Odhikar.

In a briefing on Sep. 5 in Geneva, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk expressed concern over “continued intimidation and harassment” of human rights advocates and civil society leaders through legal proceedings in Bangladesh, including Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus and the two Odhikar leaders. EFE

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