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Fear and persecution

Riazul Islam
July 1, 2014

Attacks on activists have created a state of fear which is obstructing the activities of rights groups in Bangladesh. DW takes a look at the human rights situation in the South Asian nation.

Rapid Action Battalion RAB Spezialeinheit Militär Dhaka Bangladesh
Image: Getty Images/AFP

The human rights situation in Bangladesh has drawn increased global attention since the nation's security forces started a crack down on the opposition supporters who staged violent protests against the verdicts of the war crimes tribunal, which was set up to try those accused of atrocities during the country's independence war from Pakistan.

Early this year political violence erupted once again all over the country as a result of the opposition's boycott of the general election. According to rights groups, hundreds of people have been killed by the security forces during protests in the last two years.

Human rights groups have vehemently criticized the forceful action of security forces against the protesters. Besides political violence, the country is also marred by forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings causing grave concern to rights groups.

Fear of abduction

On May 15, 2014 human rights activist Nur Khan Liton narrowly escaped an abduction attempt in the capital Dhaka. Following the incident Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), in a statement, expressed its concern over the threats faced by activists.

Sheikh Hasina
PM Sheikh Hasina's government has accused local and international human rights organizations of pursuing political agendasImage: Reuters

While talking to DW, Liton claimed that he was investigating about the alleged role of the country's elite security force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in several murders. RAB is repeatedly accused of contract killings and abductions by rights groups over the past two years.

Organizations such as AHRC and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have demanded the disbanding of RAB altogether.

HRW Asia director Brad Adams told in a DW interview that in many cases the elite security force arrested innocent people and killed them in cold blood and labeled them as victims of crossfire. Instead of addressing the problem the current government is deliberately ignoring the issue, Adams added.


But the current government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has long accused local and international human rights organizations of pursuing political agendas. This has also resulted in the arrests of several human rights activists.

Bringing the example of Odhikar, a local human rights watch dog, Brad Adams told that its secretary Adilur Rahman had faced arrest, threat, persecution and public attack because of his reporting on human rights violations. Like HRW, Odhikar was also the target of the ruling party.

Adilur Rahman claimed that the government has been reluctant to release foreign funds sent to Odhikar. "The multipronged action by the authorities is pushing Odhikar towards the brink of a complete shut down," Rahman told DW.

Controversial law

Human rights groups are concerned about the way some controversial laws are being enforced against the media, activists and bloggers. In a DW interview, Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW's South Asia director, said that the current Information and Communication Act has been used not only to arrest bloggers and activists, but also to shut down several TV channels.

Furthermore, the government is trying to enact another law which may hinder rights organizations from carrying out their activities.

Bangladesch Dhaka Polizei
Security forces in the country have been accused of committing human rights abusesImage: Reuters

Mizanr Rahman, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission Bangladesh (NHRCB), said that the proposed draft has caused concern among the civil society as well as human rights organizations.

According to the proposal, if the government thinks that an NGO is not performing accordingly or not complying with its directives, it can appoint an administrator in lieu of the body that runs the NGO, Rahman explained.

Rahman said that this legislation, if passed, will create a space for direct intervention in the functioning of NGOs.

Against this backdrop, HRW's Adams accused the present government of creating a very negative environment for human rights groups operating in Bangladesh. He said that "the new proposed law is aimed at limiting the funds of NGOs, so that they can fail miserably in doing their jobs." This view is shared by activist Liton: "Due to the continuous human rights violations backed by the state apparatus, the scope to work freely and without fear is becoming slim by every minute."