DHAKA: The overall human rights situation in Bangladesh was as alarming last year as it had been in the previous years, said human rights body Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK).

Though the country witnessed a continuation of economic and sociocultural developments, there wasn’t much progress on civic and political fronts, according to an annual report released by the ASK. The report on human rights situation was based on media reports and ASK’s own investigation.

As per the findings, extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearances, killing in political violence and repression of minorities increased last year. Subversive activities by religious fanatics including the Gulshan cafe and Solakia Eidgah attacks added to the situation.

For these reasons, an atmosphere of terror is prevailing in society, Nur Khan said, acting executive director of the ASK.

The report, however, praised the Supreme Court verdict asking the authorities to stop misuse of Sections 54 and 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the High Court verdict declaring the 16th constitutional amendment illegal as positive steps towards ensuring people’s civic and political rights.

Concerted efforts by the government and the civil society are must to establish equal rights and dignity of people irrespective of their caste and creed, Khan said. “Above all, the government has to play a more effective role to improve the human rights situation.”

Extrajudicial killing, custodial death

Some 195 people were killed in “crossfire”, “shoot-out” and “gunfight” with law enforcement agencies and in their custody last year. The number of such deaths was 192 in 2015 and 128 in 2014, as per the report.

The ASK, however, cited arrest warrants issued by a Kushtia court for three policemen, including an officer-in-charge, for their alleged involvement in the killing of a farmer in “crossfire” in 2007 as a positive move.

Enforced disappearances, secret killings

Although the country’s highest court declared illegal anyone’s arrest by plain-clothes law enforcers, abduction and detention by plain-clothes men identifying themselves as law enforcers continued.

Ninety-seven people fell victim to enforced disappearance last year. Of them, 26 were traced when they were shown arrested, and three others returned to their families. Eleven were found dead while the rest remained untraced,

To this, Khan said, “We have been demanding a judicial investigation in each incident. But the state did not take any visible step ... For this reason, a culture of impunity prevailed.”

Political violence, law and order

The law and order situation deteriorated after targeted killings of foreigners, religious minorities and free thinkers by religious bigots. Violence also took place centring on Union Council elections, killing in its wake 147 people, which was the highest in any local election.

Repression on religious minorities

The repression and killing of minorities increased too in 2016, as per the report. The ASK deemed the incident of Nasirnagar in Brahmanbaria to be the biggest, where 15 temples and more than 50 Hindu houses were attacked over a Facebook post allegedly for hurting religious sentiments of Muslims.

Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression is a constitutional right but it was violated on several occasions, ASK said, adding that there were allegations of government vigilance on different mass and social media.

Be it repressive action by the government or an act of religious fanatics, people’s freedom of expression in both cases was violated, it said.

Repression on journalists

One hundred and seventeen journalists faced repression by law enforcers, influential people, local representatives, criminals, political activists and government officials, ASK said in the report. It also pointed out that at least 79 sedition and defamation cases were filed against Mahfuz Anam, the editor and publisher of The Daily Star, in less than two weeks.

—The Daily Star / Bangladesh

Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2017