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Press briefing notes Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Bangladesh legal harassment of HRDs and civil society leaders

05 September 2023

Delivered by

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani



We are very concerned by the continued intimidation and harassment of human rights advocates and civil society leaders through legal proceedings in Bangladesh, including Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus, known for his work on poverty alleviation through Grameen Bank, and two leaders of the respected human rights organization Odhikar.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk calls on the Bangladeshi authorities to create a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders and other civil society representatives to carry out their essential work for the welfare and protection of all people in Bangladesh.

Yunus has faced harassment and intimidation for almost a decade. He currently faces two trials that carry potential prison sentences - one on charges of violating labour laws, the second for alleged corruption.  

While Yunus will have the opportunity to defend himself in court, we are concerned that smear campaigns against him, often emanating from the highest levels of government, risk undermining his right to a fair trial and due process in line with international standards. 

We have also been following closely the cases brought against the leaders of the Odhikar organization, Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan, in which the verdicts are due to be delivered on Thursday 7 September. The criminal charges relate to a fact-finding report they compiled 10 years ago on extra-judicial killings. Both have faced harassment and intimidation, and their organisation’s licence was not renewed.

The legal harassment of civil society leaders, human rights defenders and other dissenting voices, is a worrying sign for civic and democratic space in Bangladesh. These cases also represent an important test for the independence of the judiciary in Bangladesh.

The High Commissioner urges the judicial authorities to ensure the most rigorous review in these cases to ensure that rights to due process and fair trial are strictly and consistently applied.

We are also studying closely the new Cyber Security law which has been presented to Parliament to replace the problematic Digital Security Act.  The new law will replace imprisonment with fines and increase the scope for bail for several offences, but it is very important that Parliament address the remaining concerns to prevent any further arbitrary use of the law to suppress freedom of expression.


For more information and media requests, please contact:

In Geneva
Ravina Shamdasani - + 41 22 917 9169 / [email protected] or
Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / [email protected] or
Liz Throssell + 41 22 917 9296 / [email protected]

In Nairobi
Seif Magango - +254 788 343 897 / [email protected]

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