07:31 PM, September 02, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

Amnesty disturbed by 'rise in disappearances, clampdown on media'

Amnesty disturbed by 'rise in disappearances, clampdown on media'

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In tears the parents of victims of enforced disappearances at the Jatiya Press Club auditorium, where about 100 families of victims gathered to observe the UN's International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on August 30. Photo: Palash Khan
In tears the parents of victims of enforced disappearances at the Jatiya Press Club auditorium, where about 100 families of victims gathered to observe the UN's International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on August 30. Photo: Palash Khan

The Amnesty International today urged Bangladesh authorities to tackle what it called "disturbing rise in enforced disappearances" and to end their "increasing crackdown on freedom of expression".

“Bangladesh has made progress on reducing poverty and other development indicators, but this has not been matched when it comes to respecting human rights, such as torture or removing restrictions on freedom of expression,” said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Bangladesh Researcher.

The briefing, which set out some of the key human rights issues facing Bangladesh following the January elections, made recommendations to the government on issues which demand urgent attention.

Amnesty said the authorities must immediately tackle the disturbing rise in enforced disappearances over the past two years, stop the use of torture, and end their increasing crackdown on freedom of expression.

“We have also documented a disturbing trend that suggests the security forces are responsible for a continuing pattern of disappearances, even though they deny it,” Abbas said.

He added that the government has to take a long, hard look at the conduct of its own security forces, and end the almost complete lack of accountability around these cases.

The rights body said it had sought comments from the government on the human rights concerns raised in the briefing. The government said that cases of enforced disappearances have been investigated, and torture charges have been framed “against certain number of law enforcement personnel…” without adding any further details. 

Amnesty International said it had investigated at least 20 disappearances at the hands of state security forces in Bangladesh since 2012, but the actual number is likely to be much higher. Of the 20 men, nine have been found dead, six have returned home after captivity lasting up to two months and five are still unaccounted for.

The rights body also claimed that many of the abductions appear to have been politically motivated, with prominent members of opposition parties targeted. In several cases, eyewitnesses point to involvement by the police or its special force, Rapid Action Battalion (Rab), but there has been almost no accountability for the security forces’ alleged role, the body pointed out. 

Citing the high-profile Narayanganj murders which involved seven people who were abducted and killed by men later identified as RAB officers in Narayanganj in April 2014. Following public outcry, police arrested three Rab officers in connection with the murders, but they have yet to be charged.

“The Narayanganj case is a litmus test for Bangladesh’s legal system. While it is positive that the three Rab suspects have been arrested, police must now follow through with a thorough investigation and bring those responsible to justice,” said Abbas Faiz.

The briefing further documented torture that is still rife across Bangladeshi places of detention.

“The government of Bangladesh must respond to long standing calls by both national and international human rights organizations and stop torture,” said Abbas Faiz.  

Of more than 100 former detainees Amnesty International has spoken to in recent years, all have reported being subjected to some form of torture or other ill-treatment, an indication of how widespread the problem could be, he added.

He said, this indicates the failure of the government to take decisive action against these human rights violations. 

Abbas Faiz claimed that Bangladesh authorities have stepped up a crackdown on freedom of expression in the last two years through what he termed “draconian laws governing internet usage”.

At least four bloggers and two human rights defenders have been charged under the Information and Communications Technology Act, a vaguely formulated law that gives authorities broad scope to charge those spreading “defaming information” the briefing noted.

Four bloggers were arrested in April 2014, accused of making derogatory comments about Islam. Although they have since been released on bail, the charges against them have not been dropped.

Amnesty International also claimed that editors and journalists spoken to when researching the briefing also reported that more subtle forms of repression have increased, ranging from threatening phone calls, to pressure from security forces on editors to deny media space to government critics.

The government had responded saying that “any law [in regard to a new media policy] would be formulated in consultation with all concerned, including representatives of the electronic media”. No details were given about the format of such consultation, the briefing said. 

“Amnesty International will be monitoring the developments in cases highlighted in this briefing as a test of the government’s determination to address the human rights concerns we have highlighted,” said Abbas Faiz. “We urge the authorities to engage seriously with all the recommendations we are making.”

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