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Authorities threaten NGOs Odhikar and the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BAMAK) for denouncing human rights abuses

BANGLADESH: Authorities threaten NGOs Odhikar and the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BAMAK) for denouncing human rights abuses

Geneva, Paris, August 4, 2015 – The Observatory forthe Protection of Human Rights Defenders strongly condemns the statement issuedby the Bangladeshi police which accuses NGOs Odhikar and theBangladesh Human Rights Commission (BAMAK) of acting illegally andsubversively, simply for having published reports on extrajudicial killingssupposedly committed by the authorities.

On August 2, 2015, the Media and Public Relations wing of the PoliceHeadquarters in Dhaka issued a statement condemning newspaper reports onextrajudicial killings which cited Odhikar, a member organisation of OMCT andFIDH, and BAMAK. The Press Release, which is entitled "Police did notcommit extrajudicial killings. Statements of Odhikar and BAMAK are unlawful;only subversive campaigns", affirms that the statements made by thetwo organisations “contravene the existing laws of Bangladesh, which issynonymous to challenging Rule of Law and the judicial system”[1].

The Police Press Release further states that questioning the activitiesof the police threatens the reputation of the police and amounts to defamation and a criminal act,and may be considered as a subversive activity.

This new attackagainst independent civil society in Bangladesh is completely unacceptable anddeepens the ongoing crackdown against critical voices inside the country. Thescrutiny of governmental activities by NGOs is not a challenge to rule of lawas affirmed in the statement; on the contrary, such questioning and scrutiny isabsolutely essential to ensure the full respect of human rights in Bangladesh” said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.

The Observatory recalls that Odhikar has been underextreme pressure since August 2013 when authorities arrested Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, Odhikar Secretary,member of OMCT General Assembly and FinalNominee for the Martin Ennals Award 2014, on trumped up charges related to hishuman rights work. Since then, attacks and harassment against Odhikar have beenconstant, including judicial harassment of both Mr. Khan and Mr. NasiruddinElan, Odhikar Director, and surveillance and repression against Odhikar,its staff, and their relatives[2].

“We fear another wave of repression and persecutionagainst Odhikar and other independent organisations in Bangladesh. Thelanguage of this Police press release indicates an abuse of existing laws torepress legitimate human rights work, which violates international human rightslaw” stated FIDH PresidentKarim Lahidji. “We therefore call on the EU and other foreign donors tocall for the immediate end to the crackdown on civil society, and to expressthat free expression and association are necessary for the deepening of theirrelations with Bangladesh”.

This smear campaign takes place in an alreadyrepressive context for civil society due to theattempts by the Bangladesh authorities to stifle free expression and toseverely restrict their work.

The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities)Regulation Act 2014, which was approved by the Cabinet in 2014 and iscurrently before the Parliament in order to be passed into law, subjects the work of civil societyorganizations to increased control by the government and restricts foreign fundingto Bangladeshi NGOs, which is a violation of human rights standards.

In addition, the newly proposed Cyber Security Act 2015 aims to further tighten the control of theauthorities over free expression, going beyond the existing Information andCommunication (ICT) Act which already criminalises defamatory and“anti-State” publications and has been used to target dissenting voices, inparticular human rights defenders.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human RightsDefenders (OBS) was created in 1997 by OMCT and FIDH. The objective of thisprogramme is to intervene to prevent or remedy to situations of repressionagainst human rights defenders.

For more information, please contact:

· OMCT: Miguel Martín Zumalacárregui: +41 22 809 49 24

· FIDH: Arthur Manet/Lucie Kroening: + 33 1 43 55 25 18

[1] Unofficial translation.

[2] Forfurther information on the case see Observatory's Urgent Appeal BGD 001 / 0813 / OBS 074.5, February5, 2014: Acts of surveillance and harassment against the staff of the NGO Odhikar, and in particular against Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan and his relatives

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