Saturday, August 31, 2013

In protest against continued detention of Adilur Rahman Khan

A generation is passing through queer times in Bangladesh. Values generally deemed sacred are now playthings in the hands of the elite in this small South Asian nation. Human rights, often taken to be among the most basic of universal rights, seem to have taken on a whole new meaning. So has that tenet on which a society is built on, law. Over the past few years, the confluence of these two unnaturally altered phenomena has become visibly painful in this nation of 160 million people. Let us look at recent examples.

Sneak peek into the National Human Rights Commission in Bangladesh:

The National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh, a supposedly autonomous rights organisation led by the controversial Dr. Mizanur Rahman, has gained recognition due to its status as the officially recognized watchdog in this regard. Sadly, it has been found to be lacking in performance. Despite daily violations of human rights that have ravaged the country, the latest that the organization has been able to mouth is a protest expressing grave concern over placing Oishee Rahman, the teenage daughter of a slain police officer and his wife, and their minor domestic help on remand in connection with their murder. We shall note that the grave concern was shown to express anger at the remand by the government authorities. Assuming that is the status quo, one would have thus expected the organization to stand up for all victims of remand, irrespective of race, gender and status. Sadly, the rights group was found wanting in this regard. One does not need to dig out history regarding this dubious behavioral character trait on being silent on things that matter as it was reflected most recently in its blatant muteness on the arrest of one of its ilk, fellow human rights defender Adilur Rahman Khan.

History is witness:

The Hasina administration in Bangladesh has time and again shown its contempt for those opposing its policies and reporting on its mishaps. The strong language of Hasina’s disdain has been complemented by the well documented brutality of the heavy handed oppression of such elements of the society. Victims have ranged from those exposing corruption (Mahmudur Rahman and Mir Quasem Ali) to politicians speaking against the government (Ilias Ali) to critical court witnesses (Sukho Ranjan Bali) to those fighting for labor rights (Labor leader Aminul Islam). The latest of the long series of victims has been Adilur Rahman Khan, prominent human rights defender in light of his position as Secretary of Odhikar, a rights organization that has positioned itself as a strong critic of the policies of the incumbent government.

The minute details of his arrest have been well documented. People of all walks of have spoken out. Editorials and dedicated articles denouncing his arrest have materialized regularly since his arrest. People have come out on the streets demanding his release. Demos and human chains have been held. Yet the government has remained steadfast in its obscure position to harass and silence Mr. Adilur.    

Campaign to free Adilur Rahman at Munshigonj

Campaign to free Adilur Rahman at Chittagong

Flagrant disregard for a defender of human rights:

It was just a few days ago that the national committee for recommending withdrawal of “politically motivated” lawsuits proposed dropping 72 cases, including around 10 murder cases against Bangladesh Chhatra League and Awami League men dating back as far as 1988. The 72 recommended cases also included cases against two ruling party lawmakers — Amanur Rahman Khan of Tangail and Maj Gen (retd) Subid Ali Bhuiyan of Comilla. It is mentionable that even though the committee was formed in February, 2009, to recommend withdrawal of “politically motivated” cases filed between 2001 and 2008, the committee went out of its way yesterday and proposed dropping of at least two murder cases filed in 1988 and 1996 against Chhatra League men.

Now let us look at a sample of the government’s love for someone who has not murdered, raped or looted the public fund. Let us speak of a man whose only crime was to point out the malpractices, wrongdoings and corruption of that very government who dropped 72 cases on the simple allegation that they were politically motivated.

Dipu Moni, the foreign minister, herself called a meeting of foreign diplomats to assert her government’s version of the arrest of human rights activist Adilur Rahman among other things. In a move that could be defined as sleazy propaganda, Moni declared that the foreign diplomats were happy with her explanation. This was despite a silent tirade of complaints from the very same diplomats who the Daily Star observed, were rather unconvinced.

If that looks like a simple matter of childish rant to you, wait till you hear more. On the 29th of August, more than 17 days into detention of Adilur Rahman, the District Commissioner of Dhaka police did not forward to the Kashimpur jailor an affidavit for the jailor to countersign, which would have enabled Adilur's lawyer to represent him in a writ for jail division. Basically, that amounted to not giving Adilur the right to be represented in a court of law.

It would be wise to remember that earlier, Adilur was arrested under Section 54 on 10th August without warrant for allegedly violating some provisions of the ICT Act. His bail petition was rejected but the HC had stayed the remand order wanting him to be interrogated at the jail gate. This is an important article which explores the complexities of the situation as it now stands.

As an editorial of the Daily Star observed, “Section 54 is applied based on suspicion rather than on material grounds. The onus, therefore, is entirely on law enforcers to specify the charges being framed against him. When there is no well-defined and specified charges as yet, and no bail nor division has been granted to him, this amounts to clear curtailment of his freedom and civil liberties. More than a month had elapsed since Odhikar replied to the letter of information ministry on the figure quoted in the rights body’s website, leaving us to wonder what necessitated the belated action against Adilur Rahman.

It is not merely a coincidence that ICT Act has been amended post facto whereby some non-cognizable offences in the original law have been made cognizable and wide powers given to the police to arrest anybody without warrant.

So as the demand stands, we must call on the government to immediately release Adilur Rahman Khan. This trial has not only eroded the image of Bangladesh and the credibility of the judicial system, it has given weight to the general perception that the government has betrayed the trust of the public in the law and reneged on promises of justice and what not.

The law should be the protector of human rights, not the prosecutor. The law must ensure that justice is served, not allow to withdraw murder cases based on vaguely formulated “political considerations” .

Free Adilur Rahman Khan.

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