Bangaldesh: A year of Emergency
929 people detained, 395 are still under detention, 176 encountered to death
By: Ch. Narendra
January 12, 2008
Dhaka-based human rights group Odhikar urged the Bangladesh authorities to lift state of emergency in the country and restore fundamental rights. Releasing a report highlighting the human rights situation in the country during the yearlong period of emergency, it stressed the need to create an enabling environment for dialogue, change and democratic polity.
A State of Emergency was proclaimed by President Iajuddin Ahmed on 11 January 11, last year. It asked to establish a human rights friendly environment and by releasing of all political prisoners. If there are allegations against any person, trials should be conducted respecting human rights and ensuring due process of law, in an open and transparent manner to ensure justice.
It also seek release of teachers, students, employees arrested after the August 2007 campus protest, intimidation of the media and withdraw legal cases filed against jute-mill and garments workers for violating the State of Emergency. It said that extra-judicial killings, torture and indiscriminate arrests should be stopped immediately and independent judicial inquiries into all extra-judicial killings be held, perpetrators prosecuted and victims be awarded adequate reparations.
Odhikar deplored that reports on serious and credible allegations of torture and violations of human rights continued to cause concern throughout the year of emergency. Suspects were picked up by the law enforcement agencies; detained, and tortured while they were in custody.
Another kind of torture was reported during the period when people were taken into remand in order to extract evidence to use against them or others, especially those allegedly accused of corruption or crime. On many occasions, the arrestees were tortured into giving confessional statements, while some were even threatened with death by "crossfire".
In one reported case, that Sheikh Selim, Presidium Member of Bangladesh Awami League, it was alleged that he was threatened with death by "crossfire" for refusing to testify against others. The Joint Secretary General of BNP Tarique Rahman also informed the Court that during his last period of remand, he was blindfolded for 18 out of 24 hours, tied up and suspended from the ceiling and tortured.
Since the State of Emergency it was reported that 929 people were detained under the Special Powers Act 1974 alone. Most of these detainees are political persons. Among them 395 people are still under detention. After arrest in many cases, it was reported that the detainees were not brought before the Magistrate within the constitutionally mandated timeframe, then detained for an indefinite period and left to languish in overcrowded prison cells.
During the year of State of Emergency, the freedom fighter Gazi Golam Dastagir, businessman Quamrul Huda and many others were abducted and illegally detained for an indefinite period. Extrajudicial killings continued unabated during the one-year of Emergency. During this year, 176 people have reportedly been extra- judicially killed by Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies. Among them a total of 66 people died while in custody of law enforcement agencies.
Of the 176 people extra-judicially killed, it was reported that 123 people were killed in so-called "crossfire"/encounter /gunfight/ shootout, 27 people were tortured to death, 15 were shot dead in circumstances other than "crossfire"/encounter/gunfight /shootout and there were 11 deaths in other circumstances.
During the one year of State of Emergency, the Government demolished a number of slums and evicted many roadside hawkers. This caused serious human rights violations as the actions directly affected their rights to livelihood and shelter.
During this period, cases were filed against numerous unidentified individuals, raising genuine apprehensions that this constituted a gross abuse of the legal process and opened up opportunities for future harassment by implicating arrestees in such cases.
During the one year of state of emergency, the Government pursed a policy of termination of the jute mill workers of state- run jute mills, instead of taking a pro-active policy to make the concerned industries viable, and made the human rights situation of those affected further vulnerable. A Number of cases were filed against jute-mill and garments factory workers as many of them demonstrated against lay off and non- payment, allegedly violating the State of Emergency.
Odhikar is concerned about the impact of the Emergency Powers Rules on freedom of expression and, in particular, on media freedom. In August 2007, the Government specifically asked Ekushey Television (ETV) and CSB News to refrain from broadcasting any provocative news, documentaries, talk shows and discussions critical of the government.
In separate orders, the Government held that it can ban or attach conditions on broadcasting provocative news, documentaries, talk-shows and discussions critical of the government under powers given to it by Article 5 of the Emergency Powers Rules 2007.
These restrictions were imposed following broadcasting of reports on the campus protest in Dhaka University and other places in August. A number of journalists were assaulted, beaten and injured by the security forces during enforcement of curfew.
It was reported that between 12 January 2007 and 10 January 2008, at least 33 journalists were injured, 9 arrested, 35 assaulted and 78 threatened. During this period, 1 journalist''s house had been attacked, 13 cases filed and there was 1 incident where a journalist was forced to sign a document not to publish a report without prior permission of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR).
Odhikar's Acting Director ASM Nasiruddin Elan was taken to the Naval Headquarter on 3 May 2007 where captain Zubayer, Director of Naval Intelligence, along with 3 other associates, intimidated and harassed him for preparing the reports and threatened him with death. Odhikar's Kushtia based Human Rights Defender, Hasan Ali, who carried out a number of fact finding missions on extrajudicial killings, was also taken to Kushtia Sadar Police Station on December 4, 2007, where he endured severe physical assault by the police.