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Bangladesh must end harassment of human rights defenders: UN experts

11 July 2023

GENEVA (11 July 2023) – UN experts* today called on Bangladesh to end all acts of harassment against representatives of the human rights organisation Odhikar and ensure respect for due process.

“This case is emblematic of the use of criminal proceedings to silence human rights defenders and organisations, such as Odhikar and its representatives, who have documented enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings and cooperated with UN human rights mechanisms in this context,” the experts said.

“Such reprisals also have a chilling effect and may deter others from reporting on human rights issues and cooperating with the UN, its representatives and mechanisms.”

Odhikar's renewal application was pending with the Bangladeshi NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) from 2014 until its deregistration in June 2022. In the letter denying renewal, the NGOAB accused Odhikar of publishing “misleading information,” “seriously [tarnishing] the image of the State to the world,” and “[creating] various issues against Bangladesh.”

“Odhikar’s case reflects the ongoing harassment and targeting of human rights defenders and organisations in Bangladesh. This practice is a clear violation of the right to freedom of association as guaranteed under Article 22 of the ICCPR” the experts said.

Ten years after Odhikar published a fact-finding report on extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh, the organisation’s Secretary Adilur Rahman Khan and its Director ASM Nasiruddin Elan continue to face judicial harassment at the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka, for allegedly publishing “fake, distorted and defamatory” information. According to UN experts, the trial has been marred by violations of due process.

On 5 April 2023, a Cyber Tribunal Judge closed the examination of witnesses to proceed to the next step of examining the accused. After three hearings, when the judge was “not prepared for examining the accused”, the prosecutor submitted an application for further investigation, which was objected to by the defence of the human rights defenders.  On 15 May, the judge overruled the defence's objections and granted the prosecution's request. The judge did not permit international observers in the courtroom but failed to provide clarity about the basis of this decision.

“We are concerned that this sets a dangerous precedent for the observance of due process and the right to a fair trial, given that the examination of the prosecution’s witnesses has been completed,” the experts said.

In addition to this legal process, Odhikar is reportedly facing public smear campaigns at both organisational and personal levels through print and electronic media.

“The defamation of Bangladesh-based human rights organisations by high-profile public figures is a clear attempt to undermine their credibility, reputation and human rights work in the country,” the UN experts said.

They called on authorities to ensure respect for due process and the right to a fair trial and urged the Government of Bangladesh to immediately cease the reprisals, judicial harassment and smear campaigns against Odhikar, including its leaders and human rights defenders Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan.

The experts raised the issue of intimidation against Odhikar with authorities and urged them to ensure that human rights defenders can conduct their legitimate work in a safe and enabling environment without fear of reprisals of any kind.


Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

The Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page - Bangladesh

F or further information and media requests, please contact: Sophie Helle (+41 22 917 56 69 or [email protected].)

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