Bangkok/Kathmandu, 18 September 2023 – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), in collaboration with its member organizations, has expressed its steadfast support for Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, two prominent Bangladeshi human rights defenders. The duo recently faced conviction and were sentenced to two years in prison, along with a fine, by the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal.
Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan have been dedicated to documenting human rights violations in Bangladesh through their work at Odhikar, a watchdog organization focusing on civil and political rights abuses. Their work has shed light on numerous cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, and violence against women and minorities.
Since 2013, Odhikar and its dedicated staff, including Adil and Elan, have endured relentless judicial harassment. This harassment stemmed from the publication of a report that exposed the extrajudicial killings of 61 individuals during a crackdown on protestors. In response, authorities charged Adil and Elan under Section 57 of the Information and Communications Technology Act of 2006, accusing them of ‘publishing fake, obscene, or defaming information in electronic form.’ Both were subsequently subjected to arbitrary detentions, lasting 62 and 25 days respectively, before being released on bail. Odhikar strongly contested these charges and called for an independent probe commission to seek justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings.
Over the years, Odhikar, Adil, and Elan have been targets of smear campaigns and criticism due to their human rights advocacy. In 2022, the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) declined to renew Odhikar’s registration, citing the alleged publication of ‘misleading information’ about extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, claiming that it had ‘significantly damaged the State’s international reputation.’ This decision was upheld by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA, stated, “FORUM-ASIA stands in solidarity with Adil and Elan. They have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of justice and the protection of human rights in Bangladesh. After a decade of unwarranted harassment, their sentencing sends a chilling message to all human rights defenders in Bangladesh and beyond.” She further urged the Government of Bangladesh to drop all charges and promptly release Adil and Elan, emphasizing that holding them in detention damages Bangladesh’s international reputation.
Bacalso noted that this conviction comes on the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights Defenders, symbolizing an attempt to stifle dissent and erode fundamental freedoms of expression and association. She stressed that these actions contradict the core principles of democracy and the rule of law.
FORUM-ASIA, along with its member organizations, has called upon the Government of Bangladesh to unconditionally release Adil and Elan and quash all charges against them. They implored the authorities to respect the rights of human rights defenders and ensure they can continue their work without fear of persecution and reprisals, emphasizing the importance of upholding fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.