Bangladesh: Call for the release of two human rights defenders unjustly detained

The harassment of Odhikar and its leaders has been widely condemned by the United Nations and the European Parliament © Odhikar

Joint statement

72 human rights organisations stand in solidarity with Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, two prominent Bangladeshi human rights activists from the Odhikar group, after they were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment as retaliation for their human rights work.

On 14 September 2023, Adilur Rahman Khan, Secretary of Odhikar, as well as a member of the OMCT General Assembly and FIDH Secretary General, and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, Director of Odhikar, were sentenced to two years in prison and a fine, following ten years of relentless judicial harassment. The two men were remanded at Dhaka Central Jail. Khan and Elan’s lawyers plan to appeal the decision once the court has issued its written judgment, which could take months.

The case was launched after Odhikar, a member of the OMCT SOS-Torture Network and of the FIDH, published an investigative report documenting extrajudicial killings by the State in response to a protest in May 2013. In 2013, Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan were arbitrarily detained for 62 and 25 days respectively before being released on bail. Since then, they have been subjected to continuous judicial harassment, with Bangladeshi courts repeatedly dismissing their requests without serious legal grounds, prosecuting witnesses without the consent of the defendants’ lawyer or allowing them enough time to prepare for cross-examination, in clear violation of the internationally recognised right to a fair trial.

The Bangladeshi authorities accelerated hearings in their case following the adoption of US sanctions against the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a notoriously abusive paramilitary organisation, and its leaders in December 2021, as they blamed human rights groups such as Odhikar for this outcome. Over the years, Khan and Elan, as well as Odhikar, have been subjected to smear campaigns, criticised, and demonised by the government for their human rights work. Odhikar’s registration was finally denied for renewal in June 2022 after being pending for eight years.

In Bangladesh, human rights violations committed by the security forces, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture, remain rampant throughout the country, with absolute impunity. Instead of prosecuting and punishing those who document and expose human rights violations, the government should investigate and hold to account the perpetrators of these violations.

The harassment of Odhikar has been widely condemned by the United Nations Special Procedures, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Secretary-General in its latest report on reprisals, and the European Parliament.

We call on the authorities of Bangladesh to immediately and unconditionally release Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, to overturn their convictions and to put an end to the judicial harassment to which they are subjected.

We also call on the international community to take a firm stand in support of human rights defenders in Bangladesh and to demand the release of all those behind bars as retaliation for their legitimate and unfailing work.

We stand in solidarity with Adilur and Elan.

Inspired by their courage, commitment, and resilience, we will continue to fight until they are freed and can continue their vital human rights work without fear of threat.


  1. ACAT Belgium - Belgium
  2. ACAT España/Catalunya- Acción de los Cristianos para la Abolición de la Tortura - Spain
  3. ACAT Germany (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) - Germany
  4. Advocacy Forum - Nepal
  5. Al-Haq - Palestine
  6. Alliance pour l'Universalité des Droits Fondamentaux (AUDF) - Democratic Republic of Congo
  7. ALTSEAN-Burma - Myanmar
  8. Asia Alliance Against Torture (A3T) - Indonesia
  9. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) - Thailand
  10. Association Nigérienne pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme (ANDDH) - Niger
  11. Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) - India
  12. Center for Prisoners' Rights Japan (CPR) - Japan
  13. Centre d’Action Sociale, de Réhabilitation et de Réadaptation pour les Victimes de la Torture et de la Guerre - SOHRAM - CASRA - Türkiye
  14. Centre de Documentation et de Formation sur les Droits de l'Homme (CDFDH) - Togo
  15. Centro de Investigación y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CIPRODEH) - Honduras
  16. Changement Social Bénin - Benin
  17. Coalition Tunisienne Contre la Peine de Mort - Tunisia
  18. Colectivo de Abogados y Abogadas José Alvear Restrepo CAJAR - Colombia
  19. Collectif des Associations Contre l'Impunité au Togo (CACIT) - Togo
  20. Comisión Ecuménica de Derechox Humanos (CEDHU) - Ecuador
  21. Comité Vietnam pour la défense des droits de l'Homme (VCHR) - Vietnam
  22. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) - India
  23. Defender Center for Human Rights - Libya
  24. DITSHWANELO - The Botswana Centre for Human Rights - Botswana
  25. Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) - Egypt
  26. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center (EHRDC) - Ethiopia
  27. Federal Association of Vietnamese Refugees in the Federal Republic of Germany - Germany
  28. Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos (INREDH) - Ecuador
  29. Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) - Greece
  30. Human Rights Association (IHD) - Türkiye
  31. Human Rights Centre ZMINA – Ukraine
  32. Human Rights Defenders Alert ~ India (HRDA) - India
  33. Human Rights Movement ”Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan” - Kyrgyzstan
  34. Humanist Union of Greece - Greece
  35. Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) - Azerbaijan
  36. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) - France
  37. Justiça Global - Brazil
  38. JusticeMakers Bangladesh in France (JMBF) - France
  39. KARAPATAN - Philippines
  40. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR) - Kazakhstan
  41. Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) - Ukraine
  42. League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI) - Iran
  43. Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) - Lebanon
  44. Liga Mexicana por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos A.C (Limeddh) - Mexico
  45. Ligue Algérienne de Défense des Droits de l'Homme - Algeria
  46. Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l’Homme (LTDH) - Tunisia
  47. Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) - Maldives
  48. Manushya Foundation - Thailand & Laos
  49. Martin Ennals Foundation - Switzerland
  50. Minority Rights Group - Greece
  51. Mouvement Lao pour les Droits de l'Homme (MLDH) - Laos
  52. Musawi - Pakistan
  53. Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) - Norway
  54. Observatoire des Droits de l'Homme au Rwanda (ODHR) - France
  55. Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones (OVP) - Venezuela
  56. OPEN ASIA|Armanshahr Foundation - Afghanistan
  57. Organisation Contre la Torture en Tunisie - Tunisia
  58. Palestinian Human Rights Organisation (PHRO) - Lebanon
  59. People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) - Republic of Korea
  60. People’s Watch - India
  61. Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) - Philippines
  62. Programa Venezolano de Educación Acción en Derechos Humanos (Provea) - Venezuela
  63. Promo LEX Association - Republic of Moldova
  64. Sectoral Transparency Alliance on Natural Resource Governance in Cebu, Inc. (STANCe) - Philippines
  65. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) - Malaysia
  66. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression - Syria
  67. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) - Philippines
  68. The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) - Indonesia
  69. Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) - South Korea
  70. Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos - Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) - Guatemala
  71. Union Arabe-Aramiens en Haute Mésopotamie - Türkiye
  72. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) - Switzerland