On November 10, 2013, prominent human rights defender Adilur Rahman Khan, Secretary of the human rights non-governmental organisation Odhikar, OMCT network member in Bangladesh, and a member of OMCT General Assembly, appeared again before the Dhaka Cyber Crimes Tribunal in relation to a case filed by the Government after Odhikar published a report on the repression of a demonstration of fundamentalists by the police last May. Odhikar’s Director, Nasiruddin Elan, who was sent to prison on November 6 in relation to the same case, was not brought to the tribunal from Kashimpur Jail – 2.
During the hearing, Odhikar’s lawyers submitted a bail application on behalf of Mr. Elan. The Judge of the Cyber Crimes Tribunal set November 17, 2013 for the next hearing on which to hear the bail application. He also ordered that charges would be formally framed against Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan on that day.
The lawyers also submitted an application to obtain copies of the orders passed by the Tribunal; but the judge gave no order in this regard. Furthermore, a Public Prosecutor has not yet been appointed to represent the Government for this case, which amounts to further harassment and delay in framing charges against Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan.
The OMCT recalls that Mr. Khan was arrested on August 10, 2013. On August 11, 2013, he was brought before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court (CMM), and placed on a five-day remand for interrogation.On August 12, the High Court of Bangladesh stayed the five-day remand order to interrogate Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan and asked police to send him to jail. The next day, Mr. Khan was transferred to Kashimpur Jail number 1.
On September 4, 2013, the Detective Branch of Police announced they had filed a charge sheet against Mr.Khan as well as against Mr. Nasiruddin Elan for allegedly “distorting images by using photo shop and publishing a fabricated report, which enraged public sentiment”, under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act and Sections 505 (c) and 505A of the Penal Code, in relation to a fact-finding report issued by Odhikar on the killing of 61 people during an operation carried out on May 5-6, 2013 by security forces against Hefazat-e Islam activists in Dhaka. If found guilty, the two human rights defenders might face up to 14 years in jail or Tk 10,000,000 (about 93,660 €) fine under the ICT Act and seven years’ jail term under the Penal Code.
On September 11, 2013, the Cyber Crimes Tribunal issued an arrest warrant against Mr. Nasiruddin Elan.
On October 8, 2013, the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh granted a six-month interim bail to Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan. On October 9, 2013, the Office of the Attorney General filed an application before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, requesting to stay the High Court’s order granting bail to Mr. Khan. However, the Chamber Judge decided on the same day to uphold the High Court Division’s decision.
The OMCT recalls that the bail petition filed by Mr. Khan’s lawyer was earlier rejected three times in the same case, once by the Cyber Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka on September 25, 2013 and twice by the ChiefMetropolitan Magistrate Court on August 11 and September 9. Mr. Khan subsequently challenged the Cyber Crimes Tribunal’s order of September 25, and filed an appeal with the High Court, requesting it to grant him bail.
On October 11, 2013, at 10.30 am, Mr. Khan was finally released on bail from Kashimpur Jail number 1. The OMCT is concerned that it took two days for the bail order to be implemented, and considers this as further harassment against Mr. Khan.
On October 10, 2013, Mr. Nasiruddin Elan was granted an order of “no arrest or harassment” for four weeks from the High Court Division of the Supreme Court.
On October 21, 2013, Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan appeared before the Dhaka Cyber Crimes Tribunal. The Tribunal Judge then fixed the next date of hearing in his case on November 10, 2013.
On November 6, 2013, Mr. Nasiruddin Elan and his lawyers appeared before the Cyber Crimes Tribunal and appealed for bail in the above-mentioned case. Yet, Judge Shamsul Alam rejected the plea for bail and ordered that Mr. Elan be arrested and taken to Dhaka Central Jail.
The OMCT is also greatly concerned that on October 6, 2013, the National Parliament of Bangladesh passedthe Information and Communication Technology (Amendment) Act, 2013, setting a minimum of seven years’ imprisonment and increasing the highest punishment for cyber-crimes from 10 years under the existing Act to 14 years or a fine of Tk 10 million or both. In addition, offenses under Sections 54, 56, 57 and 61 of the ICT Act, 2006 are now considered as cognisable and non-bailable. As a consequence, law enforcers are empowered to arrest anyone accused of violating the law without a warrant, by invoking Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
It is feared that those amendments will lead to further arrests and harassment of human rights defenders, therefore shrinking the space of civil society in the country, and that there is risk that they could be applied retrospectively to the pending case against Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan and Mr. Nasiruddin Elan.
The OMCT considers the prosecution against Mr. Adilur Rahman Khan and Mr. Nasiruddin Elan as arbitrary since it only aims at sanctioning and preventing their activities as human rights defenders, therefore contradicting international human rights standards and Bangladesh’s obligations.
Rather than prosecuting human rights defenders criticising the State security services, the State should assume its responsibility as a matter of urgency and appoint an independent judicial inquiry into the alleged killings following the operation carried out on May 5-6, 2013 during the Hefazat-e Islam rally in Motijheel.
TAKE ACTION! Help us put an end to the harassment against Adilur Rahman Khan, Nasiruddin Elan and Odhikar!
To do so, please send a letter to the authorities of Bangladesh calling upon them to end the harassment against human rights defenders ADILUR RAHMAN KHAN and NASIRUDDIN ELAN. You just need to click on the “Take action” button above, copy the enclosed letter and send it to the addresses provided.