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Urgent Interventions

Bangladesh: Arbitrary cancellation of Odhikar’s licence

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

BGD 001 / 0622 / OBS 041
Violation to the right to freedom of association /
Reprisals /
Harassment
Bangladesh
June 7, 2021


The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Bangladesh.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the arbitrary cancellation of Odhikar’s licence by the NGO Affairs Bureau of the government of Bangladesh, in a further attempt to stop its human rights activities. Odhikar is a prominent human rights organisation and a member of OMCT and FIDH. Since its inception in 1994, the organisation has been vocal against human rights violations in Bangladesh. Its primary activities focus on documentation and advocacy concerning serious human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings.

On June 5, 2022, the NGO Affairs Bureau of the Government of Bangladesh sent a letter to the Secretary of Odhikar, Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan, who is also a member of the OMCT General Assembly and FIDH Secretary General, rejecting Odhikar’s application to renew its registration. The letter accused Odhikar of “spreading propaganda against the state by publishing misleading information on its own website about various extrajudicial killings, including alleged disappearances and murders, which has seriously tarnished the image of the state to the world”.

Furthermore, the document stated that Odhikar failed to: properly submit the documents required for the renewal of its registration; properly provide information requested by the NGO Affairs Bureau about alleged inconsistencies in financial transactions while implementing three projects; submit invoices requested by the Bureau; and pay the Value Added Tax (VAT). The letter further points out that the organisation failed to submit: a statement of income and expenditure of Odhikar since the submission of its application for renewal of the organisation’s registration; the list of the organization’s employees; and the names and full addresses of all the individuals Odhikar alleged were subjected to extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance between 2009 and 2021.

The Observatory recalls that Odhikar’s application for renewal of registration with the NGO Affairs Bureau had remained pending since 2014, severely hindering its ability to conduct human rights monitoring and reporting. On May 13, 2019, Odhikar filed a writ petition (numbered 5402/2019) to the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh to challenge the inaction of the NGO Affairs Bureau in processing the organisation’s application for renewal of registration. The case was heard before the High Court Division on May 25 and 26, 2022. During the hearings, the Deputy Attorney General submitted information to the Court stating that Odhikar had been “acting against the interest of the country by uploading false, misleading information on its website, which […] tarnished the image of the country throughout the world”. Ten days later, the NGO Affairs Bureau announced the cancellation of Odhikar’s licence. The case before the High Court is ongoing. The next hearing is scheduled for June 8, 2022.

The Observatory further recalls that in early February 2022, following the sanctions imposed by the United States’ Treasury Department on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in December 2021 in response to credible and widespread allegations of serious human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances, the NGO Affairs Bureau sent Odhikar a letter requesting specific information and documents, including the names and addresses of those the organisation alleged had been subjected to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance between 2009 and 2021.

The Observatory condemns in its strongest terms the arbitrary cancellation of Odhikar’s licence as well as the relentless attacks, unlawful surveillance, smear campaigns and judicial harassment to which Odhikar and its staff and management have been subjected since 2013. The organisation’s bank accounts have been frozen and Odhikar has been forbidden from receiving foreign funding, impacting considerably its operations. Furthermore, Odhikar’s Secretary and Director, Messrs. Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, respectively, are facing trial based on trumped up charges at the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka in relation to a fact-finding report issued by Odhikar documenting extrajudicial killings by security forces and law enforcement agencies during a protest in May 2013. If found guilty, they could each face up to 10 years of imprisonment.

The Observatory reiterates its deepest concern over the authorities of Bangladesh’s systematic crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists who speak out against rampant human rights violations taking place in the country, as well as over the reprisals against them and their families.

The Observatory urges the authorities to immediately overturn the NGO Affairs Bureau’s decision, to renew Odhikar’s licence and to put an immediate end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Odhikar, its staff and management, and all human rights defenders in Bangladesh.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Bangladesh to urge them to:

i. Immediately revert the NGO Affairs Bureau’s decision and renew Odhikar’s licence, as its cancellation is only aimed at punishing the organisation over its legitimate human rights activities;

ii. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Odhikar, Adilur Rahman Khan, ASM Nasiruddin Elan, and all human rights defenders in Bangladesh, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities in all circumstances without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iii. Guarantee in all circumstances Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan’s right to a fair trial as well as the independence of judges and lawyers;

iv. Ensure an enabling legal, institutional, and administrative environment that effectively guarantees the right to defend human rights, the right to freedom of association, and protects human rights defenders in Bangladesh.

Addresses:

  • Ms. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Email: pm@pmo.gov.bd
  • Professor Dr.Gowher Rizvi, Adviser to the Prime Minister (International Affairs), Bangladesh. Email: advinternational@pmo.gov.bd
  • Mr. Asaduzzaman Khan, State Minister for Home Affairs of Bangladesh. Email: stateminister@mha.gov.bd
  • Mr. Anisul Huq, Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs of Bangladesh, Email: minoflaw@law.com
  • Md. Shahriar Alam, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh. Email: fm@mofa.gov.bd
  • Justice Hasan Foez Siddique, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Bangladesh, E-mail: chief@bdcom.com or supremec@bdcom.com
  • Mr. Amin Uddin, Attorney General for Bangladesh, Email: aminuddin1971@gmail.com
  • H.E. Mr. Abdul Hannan, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, E-mail: mission.bangladesh@ties.itu.int
  • Embassy of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in Brussels, Belgium, Email: bdootbrussels@skynet.be


Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Bangladesh in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Bangladesh.

***

Geneva-Paris, June 7, 2022

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

  • E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
  • Tel OMCT +41 22 809 49 39
  • Tel FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18

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