[Joint Statement] Bangladesh: Quash charges and immediately release human rights defenders Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan
18 September 2023 2:37 pm
(Bangkok/Kathmandu, 18 September 2023) The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)–alongside its member organisations–expresses its unwavering solidarity for prominent Bangladeshi human rights defenders, Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan. We are deeply concerned over their recent conviction to two years in prison, along with a fine, by the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal.
Adil and Elan, through their exemplary work at Odhikar, a watchdog for civil and political rights abuses in Bangladesh, have diligently documented human rights violations in the country. These violations include cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, and violence against women and minorities.
Since 2013, Odhikar and its staffers–notably Adil and Elan–have faced relentless judicial harassment. This followed the publication of a report documenting the extrajudicial killings of 61 people in an overnight crackdown on protestors. Authorities responded by levelling trumped-up charges against Adil and Elan under Section 57 of the Information and Communications Technology Act of 2006, alleging the offence of ‘publishing fake, obscene or defaming information in electronic form.’ Subsequently, Adil and Elan endured arbitrary detentions, lasting 62 and 25 days respectively, before their release on bail. Odhikar vehemently rejected these charges and called for an independent probe commission to seek justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings.
Over the years, Odhikar, alongside Adil and Elan, became the target of various smear campaigns and criticism for their human rights advocacy. In 2022, the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) declined to renew Odhikar’s registration, citing the alleged publication of ‘misleading information’ about extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, which have ‘significantly damaged the State’s international reputation.’ This decision was also upheld by the Prime Minister’s Office.
‘FORUM-ASIA is in solidarity with Adil and Elan. They have devoted their lives to the pursuit of justice and the protection of human rights in Bangladesh. Following a decade of unwarranted harassment, their sentencing sends a chilling message to all human rights defenders in Bangladesh and beyond. FORUM-ASIA calls upon the Government of Bangladesh to drop all charges and promptly release Adil and Elan. Holding these two distinguished defenders in detention only serves to further tarnish Bangladesh’s already compromised international reputation. We urge the government to uphold its international obligations to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders,’ said Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.
‘This conviction, ironically coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights Defenders, symbolises a blatant attempt to stifle dissent, erode the fundamental freedoms of expression and association, and criminalise the indispensable work undertaken by human rights defenders. These actions starkly contradict the core principles of democracy and the rule of law,’ Bacalso added.
It is pertinent to note that the Government of Bangladesh has made no discernible progress in implementing recommendations arising from previous Universal Periodic Reviews. These recommendations, including the safeguarding of human rights defenders and their ability to work without intimidation or harassment, have been largely unheeded.
FORUM-ASIA and its member organisations call upon the Government of Bangladesh to promptly and unconditionally release Adil and Elan, as well as quash all charges against them. We implore the authorities to respect the rights of human rights defenders and ensure they can continue their work without fear of persecution and reprisals. We urge the government to desist from criminalising human rights work and instead uphold its international obligations to uphold the fundamental rights of its citizenry, including the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.
- Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
- AWAZ Foundation Pakistan: Centre for Development Services (AWAZCDS)
- Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw (BALAOD-Mindanaw), The Philippines
- Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), India
- Bir Duino, Kyrgyzstan
- Bytes for All, Pakistan
- Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), Mongolia
- Civil Society and Human Rights Network (CSHRN), Afghanistan
- Defence of Human Rights (DHR), Pakistan
- Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
- Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), New Zealand
- Human Rights Now, Japan
- International Legal Initiative Public Foundation (ILI Foundation), Kazakhstan
- Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), Nepal
- Karapatan Alliance Philippines (Karapatan)
- Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR)
- Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
- Maldivian Democracy Network
- National Center Against Violence (NCAV), Mongolia
- Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
- People’s Watch, India
- People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), South Korea
- Public Association “Dignity”, Kazakhstan
- Pusat KOMAS, Malaysia
- Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
- Think Centre, Singapore
- Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC), Nepal
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a network of 85 member organisations across 23 countries, mainly in Asia. Founded in 1991, FORUM-ASIA works to strengthen movements for human rights and sustainable development through research, advocacy, capacity development and solidarity actions in Asia and beyond. It has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and consultative relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. The FORUM-ASIA Secretariat is based in Bangkok, with offices in Jakarta, Geneva and Kathmandu. www.forum-asia.org
For media inquiries, please contact:
- Communication and Media Programme, FORUM-ASIA, [email protected]