Govt scraps Odhikar’s registration
The government has cancelled the registration of non-governmental organisation Odhikar, amidst an ongoing legal battle in this regard.
One of the reasons given for the cancellation was publishing misleading information about various extrajudicial killings, alleged disappearances and murders. These, the government says, severely tarnished Bangladesh's global image.
The comments were made in a letter issued on June 5 and signed by Zinat Ara, the director of registration and audit at the NGO Affairs Bureau. This newspaper has a copy of the letter.
Odhikar is one of the few organisations that have routinely logged cases of enforced disappearances and published quarterly and annual reports detailing the incidents. They also support and mobilise the families of enforced disappearance victims.
The letter states that on February 7, 2022, the Bureau wrote to Odhikar asking for the names and addresses of the victims along with relevant case details of the incidents correlating with the figures listed under "Total Extrajudicial Killing (2009-2021)" and "Enforced Disappearance (2009-2021)".
"Odhikar refused to provide the information saying a legal case was still pending."
The tenure of its registration expired on March 25, 2015.
Ruhul Amin Bhuiyan, Odhikar's lawyer, said, "The organisation applied for a renewal of their licence in 2014. This application had been left pending for years. Finally in 2019 the organisation filed a writ petition challenging the government's inaction."
The case is still ongoing.
The Bureau's letter stated that "[...] the organisation has created various issues by spreading propaganda against the state and publishing misleading information on its own website about various extrajudicial killings, including alleged disappearances and murders, which has seriously tarnished the image of the country to the world. For all these reasons, the overall performance of the organisation has not been satisfactory to the NGOAB."
Bhuiyan questioned, "There is a case going on, how could the Bureau cancel the registration?"
He added that a supplementary affidavit submitted to the court by the government said Odhikar was committing "seditious acts".
Deputy Attorney General Aurobinda Kumar Roy, representing the government in the case, said the High Court has no embargo on cancelling registrations.
"The case concerns the inaction of the government. They have turned inaction into action."
The NGOAB letter further said a special intelligence agency has informed the Bureau about the financial inconsistencies and negative activities while implementing three projects, namely Education of the Convention against Torture and OPCAT Awareness, Empowering Women as Community Human Rights Defenders, and Human Rights Research and Advocacy.
In addition to the allegations of "ruining the country's image", the NGO Affairs listed some other reasons as well.
These include the failures to pay Tk 10,482 in VAT, to submit an invoice copy for the deposit of Tk 2,921 in VAT arrears, to pay the increased fees stipulated by the new law, to submit the Bureau's approval letter for foreign travel, and to explain why expenses above Tk 10,000 were not paid through bank cheques.
"No reply/explanation was given to the objections raised on eight audit reports of the projects," said the letter.
"There is no scope to consider the application for renewal of the registration submitted by Odhikar," it concluded.