In its latest report about Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch claims the country’s military intelligence agency is involved in illegal detentions and torture. It gives an account of the exiled journalist Tasneem Khalil, who was arrested last year and tortured before being released without charge.
Human Rights Watch says the Bangladesh authorities are not stopping the security forces from using torture illegally
Tasneem Khalil is a journalist and a human rights advocate from Bangladesh. He was arrested last year on May 11 by the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) at his residence in Dhaka.
“Just after midnight, I was arrested at my residence by a team of soldiers. They belonged to the military agency. I was then taken to a cell and tortured there,” Khalil recalled.
The security forces didn’t give any official reason for his arrest but Khalil has his own suspicions about why he was detained: “I can assume that they were really angry and frustrated about my reporting on human rights violations by members of the Bangladeshi military and other paramilitary forces.”
“They were also frustrated about my work with Human Rights Watch and they were also angry about other criticism of the military-backed government.”
De facto militarisation
Khalil was released after 22 hours of detention. He then tried to leave Bangladesh. But only after international pressure did the Bangladeshi authorities allow him to fly abroad. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Sweden and doesn’t intend to return to Bangladesh before there is a political change.
“The state of emergency is a euphemism for a de facto militarisation. They have assured a sense of stability and dissent is growing day-by-day. There are no human rights under the de facto military rule,” he explained.
Bangladesh’s army-backed interim government took office in January 2007. It has launched an anti-corruption drive and detained hundreds of people. It claims it wants to reform Bangladesh’s electoral system ahead of polls due before the end of the year.
In its report, Human Rights Watch alleges that the Bangladeshi security forces have detained people indiscriminately and are involved in illegal torture.
The government has so far not responded to these allegations.
Saleem Samad is a journalist presently living in exile in Canada. He was detained by the security forces in late 2002. The case sparked an international outcry.
“The problem in countries like Bangladesh is that if you are a human right defender and working for the international media, you are definitely a threat to the security agencies,” Samad said.
He added, however, that the situation was not better under previous governments, which had been democratically elected.
“The security agencies have definitely been abusing their power. In fact, they have always had an upper hand in the state machinery. The security agencies have always intervened in democratic systems -- even when we had two women prime ministers in power consecutively.”
Human Rights Watch has called upon the Bangladeshi government to tackle the problem of torture immediately. However, the victims want more -- they want those responsible to be brought to justice as part of a transparent process.