Bangladesh acceded to the Convention on 5 October 1998. According to article 19, paragraph 1, of the Convention it was obliged to submit its initial report by 4 November 1999. From 2000 to 2018, Bangladesh was included in the list of States parties with overdue reports in the Committee’s annual report, submitted to the States parties and the General Assembly.
By a letter dated 10 December 2018, the Committee reminded the State party about its overdue initial report and about the possibility for the Committee to proceed with a review in the absence of such a report. On 16 January 2019, the State party informed the Committee that it would prepare and send it its initial report.
On 18 January 2019, the Chair of the Committee indicated on which dates its initial report would be considered. The constructive dialogue with the delegation of the State party took place on 30 and 31 July 2019. The State party’s initial report was received on 23 July 2019.
The Committee regrets that the submission of the State party’s initial report was 20 years late and was received only one week prior to the date of its consideration. It welcomes, however, the constructive dialogue with the State party’s delegation and the oral and written replies provided to the Committee.
The Committee welcomes the State party’s accession to and ratification of the following international human rights instruments:
(a) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in 1998;
(b) Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, in 1998;
(c) Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages of 1962, in 1998;
(d) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in 2000;
(e) Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, in 2000;
(f) Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, in 2000;
(g) Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, in 2000;
(h) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in 2007;
(i) Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in 2008;
(j) Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, in 2010;
(k) International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, in 2011.
The Committee also welcomes the State party’s initiatives to revise its legislation in areas of relevance to the Convention, including the adoption of:
(a) The Prevention of Cruelty to Women and Children Act, in 2000;
(b) The Legal Aid Services Act, in 2000;
(c) The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, in 2010;
(d) The Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, in 2012;
(e) The Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act, in 2013;
(f) The Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act, in 2013;
(g) Amendments to the Children Act providing for punitive measures against offenders for any kind of physical punishment of children, in 2013;
(h) The Dowry Prohibition Act, in 2018.
The Committee welcomes the initiatives of the State party to amend its policies, programmes and administrative measures to give effect to the Convention, including:
(a) The creation of committees on the prevention of violence against women and children at the district, upazila and union level; the drawing up of the multisectoral programme on violence against women by the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs; and the issuance in writ petition No. 5916 of directives laying down safeguard measures against the sexual harassment of women in educational institutions and workplaces, in 2008;
(b) Creation of the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh, in 2009;
(c) Issuance by the Supreme Court in writ petition No. 5684 of directives to stop all forms of corporal punishment in primary and secondary educational institutions, in 2010;
(d) Issuance by the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh of 15 directives on safeguard measures to be followed in the case of arrest without warrant, detention, remand and treatment of arrested persons by law enforcement agencies; and the subsequent issuance of guidelines by the Supreme Court to be followed by magistrates and the police in respect of the arrest, detention, investigation and treatment of accused persons, in 2016.
Principal subjects of concern and recommendations
Allegations of widespread use of torture and ill-treatment
While welcoming the State party’s constitutional provisions providing for the protection of any person against torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment and the State party’s adoption of the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act in 2013, the Committee is concerned at information it has received alleging the widespread and routine commission of torture and ill-treatment in the State party by law enforcement officials for the purpose of obtaining confessions or to solicit the payment of bribes.
While noting the information provided by the State party’s delegation that a total of 17 cases have been filed against members of the law enforcement agencies under the Act, the Committee is concerned that further information about these cases is not publicly available and was not provided by the delegation, and at reports it has received that no case filed under the act has been completed since its enactment.
Further, the Committee is concerned at reports that officials from the police and other authorities have repeatedly requested that the Act be amended or repealed to shield certain forces from liability under the act or to limit the scope of conduct prohibited by the Act. While appreciating the statement by the delegation that no amendment will be brought and that the Government has a “zero tolerance” policy with regard to criminal conduct by members of the law enforcement agencies, and noting comments made by the Prime Minister during “Police week 2019” that “no innocent person should fall victim to torture and harassment”, the Committee remains seriously concerned that law enforcement authorities request such exemptions and continue to consider it necessary and acceptable to engage in conduct amounting to torture and ill-treatment in the course of their work.
Moreover, it is gravely concerned that the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act 2013 is not being effectively implemented in practice. The Committee wishes to remind the State party that article 2, paragraph 2, of the Convention states that “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” (arts. 2, 4, 15 and 16).
The State party should:
(a) Publicly acknowledge at the highest levels of the Government that combating the routine commission of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officers is an urgent concern and state unambiguously that torture and ill-treatment will not be tolerated under any circumstances or against any person;
(b) Publicly affirm that the Government has no intention of limiting the applicability of the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act to any officials in the State party, that it understands the Act to apply to all such forces, including those not listed in the enumerated list of law enforcement agencies, and that anyone committing acts of torture or otherwise complicit or acquiescent in torture will bear individual criminal responsibility for such acts before the law;
(c) Ensure that officials who commit acts of torture and ill-treatment are prosecuted and punished with penalties commensurate to the crime of torture, including those with superior or command responsibility;
(d) Ensure that law enforcement officials receive and apply in practice training in forensic, non-coercive investigation methods and ensure all law enforcement officials are aware that it is unacceptable to engage in torture and ill-treatment to pressure criminal suspects to confess to crimes;
(e) Take measures to ensure that confessions obtained from criminal suspects through torture or ill-treatment are not accepted in practice as evidence of guilt;
(f) Systematically collect statistical data at the national level on the implementation of the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act, including information on the number of complaints, investigations, prosecutions and trials and on the number of convictions in cases of torture or ill-treatment, on the punishments meted out to perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment found guilty, and on measures of redress, particularly the compensation and rehabilitation afforded to victims.
Inadequate investigation of complaints of torture
The Committee is seriously concerned at information it has received that mechanisms established by the State party to receive and investigate complaints of torture and ill-treatment by officials are not leading in practice to meaningful accountability for perpetrators. The Committee is concerned at reports that police officers frequently refuse to register claims of torture or disappearance brought by victims or family members.
The Committee is further concerned that victims of torture and their families who seek to complain about or publicize incidents of torture are reportedly frequently subjected to harassment, threats and retaliation by the perpetrators.
The Committee appreciates the statement by the delegation that it is considering enacting victim and witness protection legislation and consulting with stakeholders to that end, but notes with concern reports that a draft proposal by the Law Commission on this issue has been under consideration for many years but has not been taken forward.
The Committee is further concerned at reports that there is no independent body authorized to carry out investigations into allegations of torture by officials, so investigations are carried out by officers from the same units or within the same official hierarchy as the alleged perpetrators, resulting in conflicts of interest.
The Committee regrets that the delegation did not provide information on the outcome of investigations into the 77 complaints of torture that the Government received from the Bangladesh Rights Commission between 2012 and 2019, except for one raised directly by the Committee concerning photojournalist Shahidul Alam.
The Committee regrets that the investigation concerning Mr. Alam was terminated after doctors at Bangabandhu Medical College Hospital reportedly determined that Mr. Alam had suffered no major injuries, notwithstanding his claim that he was subjected to both physical and psychological torture and ill-treatment while in the custody of members of the Detective Branch of the police on 5 August 2018.
While appreciating the information provided by the delegation that disciplinary punishments “for various offences” were handed down against members of the law enforcement agencies in 2017 by internal oversight bodies, the Committee is concerned that in those cases the most severe punishments were dismissal from service and demotion, which are not appropriately grave punishments for the offences of torture and ill-treatment.
The Committee appreciates that the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act of 2013 permits complainants to apply directly to the courts to seek a judicial inquiry into allegations of torture. While this is welcome, the Committee is concerned at reports that the procedure is not effective in practice, as law enforcement authorities frequently do not complete investigations within the time limits set out in the Act and relevant officials do not compel adherence to them.
The Committee regrets that the delegation did not provide information about cases brought to its attention in which investigations into torture allegations have reportedly been ordered but have not been completed (in the cases of Parvez and of Bashir Uddin) or had resulted in trials that had been ongoing for years (in the case of Imtiaz Hossain) (arts. 2, 4, 10, 12, 13, 15 and 16).
The State party should ensure that its authorities carry out prompt, impartial, effective criminal investigations into all complaints of torture and ill-treatment. To this end, the Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Establish an investigation mechanism to handle complaints regarding torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials that is independent of law enforcement agencies, including the police hierarchy;
(b) Expeditiously enact legislation ensuring effective victim and witness protection;
(c) Ensure that an oversight body monitors the progress of investigations into allegations of torture and ensures strict adherence to the time limits for investigations and trials outlined in the Torture Act;
(d) Enhance the training of medical professionals and ensure that medical examinations ordered to assess torture allegations are carried out in accordance with the Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Istanbul Protocol).
Unacknowledged detention and disappearances
The Committee is seriously concerned at numerous, consistent reports that the State party’s officials have arbitrarily deprived persons of their liberty, subsequently killed many of them and failed to disclose their whereabouts or fate. Such conduct is defined in international human rights law as enforced disappearance, whether or not the victim is killed or reappears later.
The Committee notes that the State party’s delegation rejected the proposition that enforced disappearances occur in Bangladesh frequently and that in the single case acknowledged by the delegation in which officials were criminally prosecuted for conduct amounting to enforced disappearance, involving several individuals in Narayanganj, the law enforcement officials were convicted of the crimes of “abduction” and “murder”.
The Committee also notes that the State party’s delegation asserted that allegations that its authorities had engaged in enforced disappearance should be presumed to be false in cases where the alleged victim has subsequently reappeared, as in the case of Hummam Quader Chowdhury.
The Committee notes that Mr. Chowdhury’s case was raised by the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances in 2017, along with those of Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem and Abdulla hil Amaan Al Azmi, all of whom were reportedly detained by unknown authorities after they campaigned for the release of their fathers from custody following their conviction by the International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh.
The Working Group had also expressed serious concern that the practice of enforced disappearance was occurring increasingly frequently in Bangladesh. The Committee regrets that the State party did not provide information regarding whether it had investigated the allegations that these men had been held for lengthy periods in unacknowledged detention by law enforcement authorities, nor did it provide information concerning the status of ongoing investigations into other cases in which its authorities were alleged to have engaged in conduct meeting the definition of enforced disappearance, such as in the death in custody of Ekramul Haque and the disappearance from police custody of Sheikh Mokhlesur Rahman (arts. 2, 4, 12, 13, 11 and 16).
The Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Unambiguously affirm at the highest level of government that law enforcement authorities must immediately cease engaging in the practice of unacknowledged detention;
(b) Publish a list of all recognized places of detention and ensure that no one is held in secret or incommunicado detention anywhere in the territory of the State party;
(c) Ensure that any official found to have held an individual in unacknowledged detention is prosecuted and punished with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, including in cases where the individual was subsequently released;
(d) Ensure that all allegations of unacknowledged detention, disappearance and death in custody are promptly and thoroughly investigated by a body that is independent of the authorities alleged to have been responsible for the detention;
(e) Ensure that all places of deprivation of liberty in the State party are monitored by an independent authority with the power to carry out unannounced visits to places of detention and speak confidentially with any individual in the facility, and that representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are also permitted to access all places of detention;
(f) Consider ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;
(g) Because offences such as “abduction” do not sufficiently communicate the serious nature of unacknowledged detention carried out by or with the complicity of State officials, prohibit “enforced disappearance” as a distinct crime in the legislation, reflecting the definition set out in the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and consider ratifying the Convention.
Rapid Action Battalion
The Committee is gravely concerned at numerous reports received of cases in which members of the State party’s Rapid Action Battalion, comprised of both members of the police and seconded military personnel, have been credibly alleged to have committed torture, arbitrary arrests, unacknowledged detention, disappearances and extrajudicial killings of persons in their custody.
The Committee is similarly concerned that with the singular exception of the Narayanganj case mentioned above, members of this force have not been held criminally accountable for such violations. The Committee is concerned that section 13 of the Armed Police Battalion Act, which exculpates members of the force for actions “done or intended to be done in good faith”, has in practice given the impression that members of the force enjoy legal immunity from prosecution for torture or extrajudicial killing.
The Committee notes with regret that the State party has not carried out an independent investigation into claims attributed to an anonymous senior official of the Battalion in a 2017 broadcast by Swedish National Radio, claiming that members of the force regularly abducted, tortured and killed individuals selected by their superiors and disposed of their bodies without leaving evidence, or planted weapons to support claims that they were killed in self-defence.
The Committee further regrets that information was not provided to it about the composition of the internal enquiry cell of the Battalion and about the measures taken against officers in cases where complaints against members of the force were verified by the cell. The Committee is also concerned at reports that personnel that have served with the Rapid Action Battalion have frequently been deployed for service with United Nations peace missions (arts. 2, 4, 12, 13 and 16).
The Committee recommends that the State party:
(a) Commission an independent inquiry into allegations that members of the Rapid Action Battalion have carried out torture, arbitrary arrests, unacknowledged detention, disappearances and extrajudicial killings as a matter of routine policy, and ensure that the personnel conducting the inquiry receive effective protection from harassment or intimidation;
(b) Repeal the “good faith” clause in section 13 of the Armed Police Battalion (Amendment) Act 2003;
(c) Cease the practice of seconding military personnel to serve in the Battalion and ensure that it is a purely civilian force and that members of the Battalion, like other law enforcement officers, are subject to criminal prosecution and penalties, rather than merely internal disciplinary action, in cases where they have allegedly committed torture, ill-treatment, disappearance or extrajudicial killings;
(d) Establish an independent vetting procedure, with appropriate guidance from the United Nations, for all military and police personnel proposed for deployment on United Nations peace missions and ensure that no person or unit implicated in the commission of torture, extrajudicial killing, disappearances or other serious human rights violations is selected for service.
Remand detention and fundamental legal safeguards
The Committee is seriously concerned at reports that the law enforcement authorities frequently do not provide persons deprived of their liberty with the fundamental legal safeguards against torture that have been identified by the Committee as essential to fulfilling the obligation to prevent torture in article 2 of the Convention.
Reports allege that individuals deprived of their liberty are not informed about the charges against them; not given prompt access to a qualified and independent lawyer from the very outset of their deprivation of liberty, nor access to legal aid immediately after arrest and during all stages of detention, including during interrogations and hearings; not given access to an independent medical examination within 24 hours of their arrival in a place of detention, free of charge and not in the presence of police officers, nor afforded the right to request and receive a medical examination conducted in confidentiality by an independent doctor of the detainee’s choice; nor provided with the right to notify a family member or any other person of their own choice of their detention immediately after apprehension.
Further, the Committee is concerned at reports that the State party’s officials frequently fail to record all instances in which a person is deprived of his or her liberty in a register at the place of detention and in a central register of all persons deprived of their liberty. It is also concerned at reports that persons deprived of their liberty are frequently not brought before a judge within the time frame prescribed by law.
The Committee is particularly concerned at reports that the law enforcement authorities frequently request, and magistrates routinely authorize, the detention of criminal suspects in interrogative custody, known as remand detention, for up to 15 days without access to a lawyer, a procedure which is permitted under sections 54 and 167 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The Committee notes reports that more than 80 per cent of all persons detained in the State party are in remand custody.
The Committee is further concerned at reports that despite the fact that the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh provided guidelines for law enforcement authorities and magistrates in the form of 15 directives in the case of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust v. Bangladesh, the directives are not followed in practice.
Furthermore, although the court called for the Government to amend the relevant sections of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1898, the Penal Code of 1860 and the Evidence Act of 1872 to ensure compliance with its ruling, those changes have not been made (arts. 2, 4, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16).
The State party should:
(a) Amend sections 54 and 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Penal Code, and the Evidence Act to reflect the ruling in the case of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust. Bangladesh and to ensure compliance with international human rights obligations;
(b) Ensure prompt and full implementation by law enforcement authorities and magistrates of the directives issued by the High Court and affirmed by the Court of Appeal in the case of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust v. Bangladesh, including through providing training and greater oversight;
(c) Take effective measures to guarantee that all detained persons, including arrested persons and those in pretrial or remand detention, are afforded in practice all the fundamental legal safeguards from the outset of their deprivation of liberty, in accordance with international standards, as set out above. In particular, the State party should ensure adherence to the right of arrested persons to be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours; ensure respect for the right to have access to counsel immediately after arrest and thereafter; and ensure that family members are promptly informed about the time and place of a person’s arrest and detention;
(d) Ensure the regular monitoring of the provision of fundamental legal safeguards to persons deprived of their liberty and ensure that any official who fails to provide them to persons deprived of their liberty in practice is subjected to disciplinary or other appropriate punishment;
(e) Ensure that pretrial detention is regulated by means of legal criteria compliant with international standards and is subject to judicial supervision at all times in order to guarantee fundamental legal and procedural safeguards;
(f) Regularly review the legality of all persons held in pretrial detention and release anyone who has been held in pretrial detention for a time period exceeding the maximum penalty for the offence;
(g) Take measures to decrease resort by the authorities to pretrial detention and increase the use of non-custodial measures, in accordance with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (the Tokyo Rules).
Violence against indigenous, ethnic and religious minorities and other vulnerable groups
The Committee is concerned at reports of intimidation, harassment and physical violence, including sexual violence, committed against members of indigenous, ethnic and religious minority communities, including by or with the cooperation of State officials. This includes the attack in Gobindaganj, Gaibandha District, on 6 November 2016, in which 3 members of the Santal indigenous community were killed and more than 50 injured, in relation to which the Police Bureau of Investigation submitted a report on 28 July 2019 stating that no police officers had been involved in the burning of homes and schools and looting of other property, despite television footage showing the contrary.
The Committee also noted recent allegations that members of Hindu communities in Pirojpur had been subjected to violence and harassment, including the burning of their homes. It also noted the case of Hindu activist and lawyer Palash Kumar Roy, who was detained for insulting the Prime Minister and was then allegedly attacked and set on fire while in police custody, resulting in his death, which the State party’s delegation indicated had been ruled a suicide.
The Committee also noted the reported rape and sexual assault of two teenage women in the Chittagong Hill Tracts by members of the army in January 2018 and the disappearance on 9 April 2019 of the indigenous rights activist Michael Chakma, who was based in the Chittagong Hills, which the delegation indicated was under investigation.
The Committee is also concerned at reports of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals by private individuals and by law enforcement officials, which is facilitated by the State party’s criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations as “unnatural behaviour” (arts. 2, 12, 13, 14 and 16).
The State party should:
(a) Ensure that independent investigations are carried out into reports of attacks and violence directed against indigenous, ethnic, religious and other vulnerable minorities, including those detailed above;
(b) Consider repealing legislation that criminalizes “hurting religious sentiments”, such as the Digital Security Act of 2018, given that such provisions are reportedly frequently abused as a means to enlist the authorities in the harassment of minority populations and seen as legitimizing the commission of private violence against persons accused of committing this offence;
(c) Protect the safety and security of persons belonging to minority indigenous, ethnic and religious groups and ensure that they have access to an independent complaints mechanism;
(d) Provide redress, including compensation and rehabilitation, to the Santal community and members of other minorities and vulnerable groups who have suffered physical violence and damage to and looting of their property, and implement in practice the Restoration of Vested Property Act, 2001 (Act No. 16) in order to ensure the return of “vested” property to its original owners;
(e) Repeal Section377 of the Penal Code of Bangladesh that criminalizes “unnatural behaviour” which the State party uses to prohibit consensual same-sex sexual conduct;
(f) Collect and publish statistical information about attacks on and violence against indigenous, ethnic and religious minorities and other vulnerable groups, including members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community;
(g) Prosecute and punish the perpetrators of all acts of violence committed by the police and non-State actors against members of vulnerable groups. National Human Rights Commission
Noting the concluding observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 2018 (E/C.12/BGD/CO/1), the Committee is concerned that the National Human Rights Commission may not have a sufficiently broad mandate or may not make full use of its existing mandate to investigate directly all alleged cases of torture and ill-treatment, including those reportedly perpetrated by State actors such as the police and the military and security forces.
It is also concerned about the selection and appointment process of the Commission members and that the Commission lacks sufficient human and financial resources to fulfil its mandate in accordance with the principles relating to the status of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights (the Paris Principles) (arts. 2, 12, 13 and 16).
The State party should:
(a) Amend the National Human Rights Commission Act of 2009, with a view to broadening the mandate of the National Human Rights Commission so that it can investigate directly all alleged acts of torture and ill-treatment reported to have been committed by State military, police and security forces, and ensure that it is broadly accessible;
(b) In the absence of a national preventive mechanism, ensure that the Commission is able to exercise its existing mandate to the fullest extent and has access to all places where persons are deprived of their liberty;
(c) Provide the Commission with sufficient financial and human resources to allow it to fulfil its mandate impartially and independently;
(d) Establish a clear, transparent, participatory and merit-based selection and appointment process, in accordance with the Paris Principles;
(e) Ensure that the Commission staff receive appropriate training on how to investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment.
Independence of the judiciary
The Committee is concerned that judges reportedly face threats and pressure in connection with their work. In particular, while noting the explanations given by the delegation, it is concerned at the allegations by the former Chief Justice, Surendra Kumar Sinha, that he was subjected to pressure from high-level officials in deliberations on the 16th amendment case and harassed afterwards as a result, compelling him to resign and flee the country; in that connection the Committee also notes the statements by the head of the delegation that Judge Sinha’s resignation was not connected to the 16th amendment case, but to allegations of corruption.
In view of the continued effort by the Government to amend the Constitution to give the parliament the power to remove Justices of the Supreme Court, the Committee remains concerned about the independence of the judiciary. Moreover, daily pressure on members of the judiciary reportedly results in judicial officials having to accept arrests without warrants, extend custody without oversight and accept other measures which undermine the fundamental legal safeguards that can protect a person from such abuses as ill-treatment and torture (art. 2).
The State party should:
(a) Strengthen the independence of the judiciary from the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs;
(b) Protect judicial officials from intimidation, harassment and improper interference, including from high-level government officials;
(c) Ensure that all judges and prosecutors receive adequate remuneration and guaranteed tenure until retirement or expiration of their term of office.
Reprisals, harassment and violence against human rights defenders and journalists
The Committee is concerned about reports that civil society activists, lawyers and journalists in Bangladesh who have criticized the conduct of the authorities or the Government and brought to light allegations of torture, disappearance, extrajudicial killings and related impunity have faced harassment and violence, as well as retaliatory lawsuits from the authorities of the ruling party for such criticism and contempt of court allegations in which they have criticized unfair trials.
The Committee is alarmed that some civil society activists, lawyers and journalists have reportedly been subjected to torture and ill-treatment while detained in connection with charges brought against them in connection with their work.
The Committee is concerned that legislation recently enacted by the State party, including the Information and Communication Technology Act of 2006, and the Digital Security Act of 2018, has been used to carry out such harassment. The Committee expresses particular concern about the case of Mahmudur Rahman, the acting editor of the Daily Amar Desh, who was held in remand detention for several years on the basis of dozens of charges of sedition, defamation, contempt of court and related issues brought against him in connection with his work.
It regrets that the delegation did not indicate whether allegations that he was subjected to torture in remand detention have been investigated, as required by the Convention.
The Committee acknowledges with appreciation the statement made during the constructive dialogue by the Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs who headed the State party delegation, that the Government wishes to make it “emphatically clear” that it will protect from reprisals members of civil society and NGOs who have cooperated with the Committee in the context of its consideration of the State party’s initial report (arts. 2, 4, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16).
The State party should:
(a) Communicate at the highest level that civil society activists, lawyers and journalists who publicize information or allegations concerning human rights violations play a vital role in society and should not be subjected to retaliatory charges of contempt of court, defamation or sedition for criticizing government leaders or their performance;
(b) Investigate all allegations of unlawful or arbitrary arrest, harassment, torture, ill-treatment or violence against human rights defenders, including civil society actors, lawyers and journalists;
(c) Amend the legislation, including the Information Communication and Technology Act of 2006, the Digital Security Act of 2018, and the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act of 2016 to eliminate provisions prohibiting derogatory remarks being made about the Constitution and constitutional bodies, engaging in “anti-State activities”, “tarnishing the image of the nation” and similar provisions that have provided a basis for arresting and prosecuting individuals who have publicized allegations of torture, disappearance, extrajudicial killings or ill-treatment, or criticized the State party’s response to such allegations;
(d) Ensure that members of civil society and NGOs who have cooperated with the Committee in the context of its consideration of the State party’s initial report are protected from any reprisals or harassment, including charges of breaching the Information and Communications Technology Act, in keeping with the pledge given by the Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs.