Crackdown on Human Rights Activists in Bangladesh Raises Concerns Ahead of Elections

Bangladesh has sentenced two prominent human rights activists, Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan, to two years in jail. Critics argue that this move is part of a crackdown by the government in anticipation of the upcoming elections. The activists, from rights group Odhikar, have been accused of publishing a report with false information regarding security force killings in 2013. However, they have consistently denied these charges.

The conviction of Khan and Elan comes after a lengthy 10-year judicial process and has sparked outrage from dozens of international human rights organizations. These organizations are calling for the immediate release of the two men, arguing that they did not receive a fair trial.

Both activists have dedicated years to documenting alleged extrajudicial killings, disappearances of opposition activists, and police brutality in Bangladesh. The 2013 report published by Odhikar detailed security forces’ killing of at least 61 individuals, including children, during a nighttime operation in Dhaka to disperse protesters.

Khan and Elan were initially detained following the publication of the report but were later released on bail. The charges against them were resurrected by prosecutors in recent times, prompting their sentencing. The prosecutors claimed that the activists’ report contained false information, hurt religious sentiments, and undermined the image of the state.

It is worth noting that the timing of the prosecutorial action is significant. Human Rights Watch has pointed out that the case against Khan and Elan only proceeded after the US imposed sanctions on Bangladesh’s elite paramilitary force for their alleged involvement in enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Moreover, the United Nations has raised concerns about the harassment and intimidation faced by both activists while on bail.

Rights groups have highlighted several due process violations during the trial, including the withholding of crucial information from the defense until shortly before the hearing. These groups argue that the government targeted Odhikar not only by arresting its leaders but also by impeding its ability to carry out human rights work.

The Sheikh Hasina government, in power since 2009, has faced numerous accusations of targeting activists and political opponents. However, Hasina denies these allegations. Last year, the government revoked Odhikar’s operating license, claiming that the organization had tarnished the country’s image. Under Khan’s and Elan’s leadership, Odhikar collaborated closely with the UN and international human rights groups, and its reports were cited in US State Department country reports.

The imprisonment of these activists comes just months before Bangladesh’s next general election, heightening concerns about the fairness and freedom of the polls. Various stakeholders are calling for steps to ensure that the elections are conducted in an open and unbiased manner.

The crackdown on human rights activists in Bangladesh and the conviction of Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan have sparked international outcry. Advocacy groups argue that the trial was marred by due process violations, and the sentences are seen as an attempt to silence dissenting voices ahead of the upcoming elections. The impact of these actions on the country’s image and democracy remains to be seen, but they underscore the need for transparent and fair electoral processes.