Bangladesh government must immediately rein in the disturbing rise in the enforced disappearances over the past two years, said London-based Amnesty International in a press release yesterday.
The global campaign aimed to protect human rights also called on the government to put an end to torture and deaths in police custody and increasing suppression on freedom of expression.
Amnesty International has investigated 20 cases of disappearance at the hands of the state security forces in the country since 2012, said the press release, adding that the actual number was likely to be much higher.
In the disappearance cases it investigated, nine people were found dead, six returned home after remaining in captivity up to two months and five are still untraced.
Many abduction incidences seem to be politically motivated with prominent members of the opposition parties having been the target. In several cases, witnesses point out the involvement of the police and the Rapid Action Battalion that have been enjoying almost absolute immunity from prosecution, the press release said.
It is, however, heartening that eight Rab officials have so far been arrested in connection with the grisly seven murders in Narayanganj in April, said Amnesty International, but they were yet to be charged.
“The Narayanganj case is a litmus test for Bangladesh's legal system,” said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International's Bangladesh Researcher.
“Police must now follow through with a thorough investigation and bring those responsible to justice.
“The government of Bangladesh must respond to long standing calls by both national and international human rights organisations and stop torture,” Abbas Faiz said.
“Bangladesh has made progress on reducing poverty and other development indicators, but this has not been matched when it comes to respecting human rights….or removing restrictions on freedom of expression,” he added.
Amnesty International has documented torture that is still rife in the places of detention across Bangladesh. All of more than 100 former detainees it has spoken to in recent years have reported being subject to some form of torture or ill-treatment, as per the press release.
Torture methods include beatings, suspension from the ceiling or electric shocks to the genitals. In at least two cases documented, the detainees also claimed to have been shot in the legs by police, leading to amputation in one case, it says.
It indicates that the government has failed to take decisive actions against human rights violations, said Amnesty.
“We have documented a disturbing trend that suggests the security forces are responsible for a continuing pattern of disappearances, even though they deny it,” Abbas said.
“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.”
Regarding press freedom, Amnesty said the authorities in Bangladesh over the last two years had stepped up a crackdown on freedom of expression, in particular through 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 the authorities broad scope to charge those spreading “defaming information”.
Editors and journalists Amnesty International spoke to stated that more subtle forms of repression had increased, ranging from threatening phone calls to pressure from security forces on editors to deny media space to government critics.
In response to Amnesty's quarries on the above issues, the government authorities without providing any detail said cases of enforced disappearances had been investigated, and charges of torture had been framed “against some law enforcers, according to the press release.
They also said, “any law would be formulated in consultation with all concerned”. However, no details were given about the format of such consultation, Amnesty said.