The government, facing intense international criticism for enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, fictitious cases, and mass arrests, is now drawing renewed censure for imprisoning human rights organisation Odhikar's secretary Adilur Rahman Khan and director Nasiruddin Elan.
On 14 September, Dhaka Cyber Tribunal judge AM Zulfiqar Hayat sentenced them to two years in prison and fined them 10,000 taka each.
The images of these human rights activists in prison vans during the verdict announcement were widely circulated globally. Observers from various countries were present in the court on that day, alongside both local and foreign media.
Since the verdict, 72 human rights organisations, as well as the United States, the European Parliament, France and Germany have demanded the unconditional release of these activists. The government had already canceled Odhikar's registration.
The New York Times stated that the ruling signifies a new crackdown on dissent, and the BBC mentioned that critics view this as part of a government crackdown ahead of the elections.
Two General Diaries (GD) were filed against Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin on 5 and 6 May, 2013, in connection to the Hefazat e Islam rally in Dhaka.
The primary charges against them include spreading false and fabricated information to worsen the law and order situation, tarnishing the image of the law and order forces, the government, and the state, and creating a negative perception of the law and order forces among devout Muslims.
Their lawyer, Mohammad Ruhul Amin Bhuiyan, objected to Prothom Alo about significant inconsistencies in the judicial process. He highlighted that after recording the statements of 18 individuals, the rare decision to grant the application for re-investigation was made based on the plaintiff's lawyer's request.
Adilur and Odhikar were accused of disseminating false information regarding the deaths of 61 people during the Hefazat Islam rally. The lawyer argued that Odhikar had not published this information anywhere, and the mentioned list was not Odhikar's creation.
In the list presented by the police to the court, the words "not yet confirmed" were written next to the names of 25 people. The police had not collected information about everyone on that list. Consequently, whether the list was true or false never emerged from the police investigation.
Since its inception, Odhikar has diligently investigated human rights violations. It is true that the rampant spread of misinformation and false information has become a concern for the state, government, and various institutions.
The United Nations has recommended the widespread dissemination of accurate information and transparency to address this issue. They firmly emphasise that the expression of opinions should never be suppressed.
However, the government has taken an opposite stance by imprisoning human rights activists. Even if, for the sake of argument, it is assumed that the list released by Odhikar is incorrect, the imprisonment of human rights activists remains reprehensible and unjustifiable under any circumstances.
The critical question arises: does the government truly intend to convey the message that we should turn a blind eye to human rights abuses by government forces? Will those who refuse to do so face harassment? There are allegations that human rights organisations are facing various forms of harassment from the government.
However, keeping the door 'closed' is no longer a viable option in this era. Victims will naturally disclose information about human rights abuses in one way or another.
The government's repressive approaches against human rights activists are unwarranted.