A Written Submission to the 41st Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre
The United Nations Human Rights Council and its Special Procedures play a pivotal role in advocating for the people’s freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in the world, where authoritarianism and right wing political propaganda are on the rise. The Council, unfortunately, in fact, accommodates Member and Observer States who maintain double standards. Bangladesh – an incumbent Member of the Council – often speaks like a soothsayer while the State muzzles the freedom of expression and opinion of its citizens inside the country.
The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) once again reiterates that many States who occupy seats inside the Council mostly abuses this global human rights platform. Bangladesh has been consistently abusing its presence in the Human Rights Council since its inception. Exercising freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly under an illegitimate authoritarian government in Bangladesh cost high price.
Human rights defender (HRD) Mohammad Abdul Kaium, who is a member of HRD Network of Odhikar – an independent human rights organisation facing State’s persecution, remains in arbitrary detention. Exposing corruption and abuse of power by a relative of a ruling party’s member of parliament, coupled with police-ruling party nexus put Kaium in jail. Police officers tortured him in custody for his refusal to provide coerced confession of a crime, which he has not committed. The police have charged him under the draconian Digital Security Act of 2018 and The Penal Code of 1860. The Magistrate and Sessions Courts have twice rejected Kaium’s bail petition since his detention on 11 May 2019.
The Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) has blocked Poriborton Dot Com (www.poriborton.com) – a news portal – within Bangladesh since 19 May 2019 for asking question about the role of a fanatic organisation having alleged affiliation with the incumbent government. In last twelve months the government blocked the same news portal on four occasions. The site was only allowed to operate upon strict instructions from the agencies of the State.
The Government of Bangladesh has blocked the website of Al Jazeera News (www.aljazeera.com/news) since it published an exclusive report on the role of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Defence Adviser’s role in using the DGFI to disappear people for a private dispute. Since the publication of the report on 19 March 2019, the Bangladesh authorities blocked the website.
Mr. Palash Kumar Roy, a lawyer, held a protest in Panchagarh district town on 25 March 2019. He demanded that an alleged fabricated case filed by his former employing company be dropped in a hunger strike. He also questioned the legitimacy of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s renewal of tenure in office while people’s right to franchise was denied in the 11th parliamentary election scheduled on 30 December 2018. The same day, on 25 March 2019, the police arrested Palash. Since March 26 he was detained in Panchagarh District Jail for making ‘derogatory remarks about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’. On 26 April, Palash was receiving treatment at the jail hospital inside the Panchagarh District Jail. Two people came to him and threw combustive substance at him and set fire. Suddenly, Palash’s whole body starting burning. On 30 April, Palash succumbed to his burn injuries at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. The alleged murder of this lawyer while in prison indicates how dangerous it is to criticize Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh.
The most serious matter of concern is that there is no institution available in Bangladesh to afford remedies for such grave crimes being committed by the agencies of the State and the people affiliated to the incumbent ruling party.
The Human Rights Council, unfortunately, lacks effective mechanism to hold States like Bangladesh accountable, as the State consistently abuses this international rights body with its best abilities. The Council and the international community need come up with sincere intent and effective mechanisms for making rights enjoyable for the citizens in the cases of repressive authoritarian States like Bangladesh. Exercising the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression is inconceivable without democracy and rule of law that do not exist in Bangladesh, today.
 Asian Human Rights Commission and CIVICUS Joint Statement, BANGLADESH: Human Rights Defender tortured while in arbitrary detention must be released and charges dropped, http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-JST-001-2019/
 Al Jazeera News, Exclusive: Bangladesh top security adviser accused of abductions, https://bit.ly/2JrEUdL