Bangladesh charges top rights activists over crackdown

Published January 8, 2014
Odhikar's Adilur Rahman Khan. — Photo courtesy: The Telegraph
Odhikar's Adilur Rahman Khan. — Photo courtesy: The Telegraph

DHAKA: A Bangladesh court charged top human rights activists on Wednesday for publishing details of a police crackdown on Islamist protesters last year that said dozens of people were killed.

A prosecutor said the heads of Dhaka-based rights group Odhikar were charged with publishing “false” reports online that stated 61 people were killed during the violent May street protests to demand a blasphemy law.

“They were indicted for spreading false information, which tarnished the image of the government among the Muslims and also undermined the law-enforcing agencies,” prosecutor Nazrul Islam Shamim said.

“...Odhikar claimed 61 people were killed. But the government says only 11 people have died,” Shamim told AFP.

The charges come just days after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won general elections that were boycotted by the opposition and were the scene of unprecedented bloodshed on polling day.

Hasina has remained defiant since Sunday's elections, insisting her walkover win was legitimate and vowing to crack down on the opposition blamed for much of the violence.

On Tuesday, three main opposition leaders were arrested including a vice-president of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party over a bomb blast during one of a string of recent strikes against the elections.

Hundreds of thousands of Islamists gathered in central Dhaka for the May protest organised by hardline Islamist group Hefajat-e-Islam to demand a strict blasphemy law that includes the death penalty.

Police have said they did not use any lethal force during the crackdown, although local and foreign media reported at the time dozens of people, mostly Islamist protesters, died from bullet wounds.

Odhikar's Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan, who were detained for 61 and 25 days respectively after their reports were published, slammed the charges, saying they were “aimed at muzzling rights groups”.

“Our report on the Hefajat crackdown was based on facts. We have the names and addresses of the 61 people who were killed in the drive,” Khan told AFP.

“It's an unjust case aimed at muzzling rights groups. It's a repression on the country's rights defenders,” Khan said.

Khan and Elan, who have pleaded not guilty, face a maximum sentence of ten years in jail and a fine of around $130,000 each if they are found guilty of the charges. Their trial will start on January 22, Shamim said.

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