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Report for the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Suppression of Odhikar s Activities About Odhikar: Odhikar

is a human rights organization that was registered under the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) in 1995. The main objective of Odhikar is to disseminate information relating human rights and human rights abuse in Bangladesh. Its main focus is in the areas of civil and political rights. Odhikar is a member of several international networks. Odhikar has a web site where its reports and activities are regularly posted and updated. For more information, please visit www.odhikar.org. This is a report regarding the curtailment of Odhikar s freedom of opinion and expression as a human rights organization, by the Government through the NGO Affairs Bureau and the Ministry of Home Affairs. Allegation regarding a person or persons:

Allegation 1: Hampering Odhikar s Activities The NGO Affairs Bureau under the Prime Minister s Office, gave permission to launch the Odhikar project titled Human Rights Defenders Training and Advocacy Programme in Bangladesh on April 28, 2009. After the permission was granted, Odhikar provided training to Human Rights Defenders as to how human rights could be upheld; how human rights violations could be prevented; how one could assist the tortured persons; along with providing training as to how public awareness could be raised against torture and to enact a domestic law criminalising torture as an offensive crime and carry out advocacy programmes to inspire the Government to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. In line with these programmes, Odhikar had already organised workshops and rallies related to a campaign to stop torture in five Districts of Bangladesh, before the project was cancelled. Local MPs, Deputy Commissioners (DCs), Superintendents of Police (SPs), representatives of various political parties, representatives of local government institutions, and the media, along with victims of torture and human rights defenders, took part in the events. Odhikar also organised a symbolic Tribunal against Torture and a roundtable discussion on June 27, 2009, in relation to the incidents of torture during the State of Emergency in Bangladesh. Odhikar then received a letter dated August 17, 2009, from the NGO Affairs Bureau ordering it to shut down its torture prevention programmes. The letter reached Odhikar on August 31, 2009. The letter, which was signed and stamped by the NGO Affairs Bureau authority, stated that the project had been cancelled because of objections expressed by the Ministry of Home Affairs. No prior notification or valid reason to shut the programme was given by the government. Odhikar filed a Writ Petition (No. 6550) challenging the cancellation of its project by the Government. On October 11, 2009, the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh issued a rule against the Government and at the same time stayed the impugned order of the NGO Affairs Bureau. On February 11, 2010 the NGO Affairs Bureau had refused to grant extension to this project on the same grounds stated
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earlier. Another project titled Education on the Convention Against Torture and OPCAT Awareness Programme in Bangladesh submitted to the NGO Affairs Bureau on December 28, 2011 for approval, have been stalled by the NGO Affairs Bureau as no clearance have been granted by the Ministry of Home Affairs to approve the project. However, the rules of business of the NGO Affairs Bureau state that it would issue a decision on a proposed project within 45 days. Allegation 2: Odhikar s staff and members under threat At around 12 noon on 05 October 2010, a person came to the main gate of Odhikar and told the guard that he wanted to visit the office premises. He disclosed his identity as a policeman from the Special Branch. He left when the guard denied entry. After sometime another person came and asked about 'Adilur Rahman Khan' and whether he resided in this building. The security guard said that he was in Court. The man left. Finally a third person came and said he wanted to go to the Swiss Red Cross office, situated at the 2nd floor of the building. The guard gave him access and the man went straight to the Odhikar office on the 3rd floor. The Director of Odhikar was in the office at that time and the man gave his identity as an officer of the Special Branch. He told the Director that his senior officer wanted to talk about Odhikar's activities and gave the Director, ASM Nasiruddin Elan, a cell number. Elan replied that he would contact the officer soon. The visitor called up his senior officer and handed over the cell phone to Odhikar s Director. The senior officer enquired whether Odhikar also worked with garment factory workers. Elan replied that Odhikar gave statements to alert the government to take notice of the issue, when garment factory workers felt deprived. The next day, on 06 October, after office hours, at 6.30 PM, two men of City Special Branch (Gulshan Zone) told the security guard that they had work with Odhikar. Because the office was closed, they left. At 11.45 AM on 07 October, two officers from the City Special Branch (Gulshan Zone) visited Odhikar and inquired about Odhikar s Secretary Adilur Rahman Khan. They wanted his curriculum vitae, passport details and his political background. Adilur Rahman Khan told them to bring an official letter from their authority in order to get information. They left Odhikar at around 12.30 PM. On 09 October, at 12:45 in the afternoon, an Additional Superintendant of Police (City Special Branch) called up Adilur Rahman Khan and asked him to see him at the Special Branch Office. Adil asked for an official letter and he replied that it was only an invitation to develop a relationship . Instead, Adil invited him to tea at his law chambers in Gulshan on 10 October 2010 at 7:00 pm. The meeting never took place. On 17 October 2010, the Deputy Assistant Director of the Munshiganj branch of the
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National Security Intelligence (NSI), called Odhikar s Director Nasiruddin Elan up on his cell phone, seeking information about a specific Odhikar project. On 19th October, Nasiruddin Elan faxed all the relevant information to him and the latter called him up the next day asking him to come to the Munshiganj NSI office. In the meanwhile, the Odhikar Director was already being investigated and monitored by NSI field officers. NSI field officers were also questioning Odhikar s local level Munshiganj human rights defenders about the work of the Organisation. On 23 October, Nasiruddin Elan went to the Munshiganj NSI office. The Deputy Assistant Director of the NSI asked the Odhikar Director many questions and wanted to know about the latter s political background and any affiliations. He told Nasiruddin Elan that this investigation was being carried out by order of the higher officials . On 03 November, 2010, the Director of Odhikar, Mr. ASM Nasiruddin Elan, paid a visit to a government office to check on the status of a project. There, he was cautioned by an official that the government was extremely annoyed with Odhikar. The official advised Odhikar s Director to take care while travelling and convey the message to the organisation s Secretary. Nasiruddin Elan was also informed by the same official that members of the Special Branch of police were constantly monitoring the Odhikar office. On 25 December 2010, at approximately twelve thirty in the afternoon, a SubInspector of the Special Branch of Police called Odhikar asking for the cell phone number and the National Identification Number (National ID number) of the Secretary of Odhikar, Adilur Rahman Khan. The Secretary was not in the Odhikar office at that time, being away for the whole day. He also asked for Odhikar s registration number, date of registration and the date of last re-registration. He also came to the Odhikar office at about 4:00 in the afternoon and at 7:00 in the evening looking for the Secretary. On 26 December 2010 at approximately 7:00 in the evening, a man claiming to be a policeman from the Gulshan Police Station (he was not in uniform) came to the gate of the Odhikar building and asked the security guard whether this was Advocate Adilur Rahman Khan s residence (since he resides on the ground floor of the Odhikar building and if he was keeping well . Adilur Rahman Khan was in the Odhikar office at that time and a member of staff went downstairs to take him up to the office, but the man had left by then. 3. Information regarding the alleged perpetrators: The NGO Affairs Bureau is controlled by the Office of the Prime Minister and it is mandatory for all NGOs in Bangladesh to be registered under it. New projects need NGOAB approval before they can be implemented and foreign donations used.
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The Ministry for Home Affairs is in control of the Bangladesh Police Force and has continuously denied that there is torture and extrajudicial deaths in Bangladesh even though there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Odhikar s main activities in the said project were to create awareness and disseminate information regarding the issue of torture, the CAT and OP-CAT and the need to criminalise torture in Bangladesh. Odhikar has constantly come under the scrutiny of government intelligence agencies for its vocal stance against torture and impunity and repression. In 2007, its Director was picked up from the office and was abused and threatened with death by members of the Navy Intelligence services for a fact finding report concerning a young man tortured and killed by members of the Navy. Torture by various law enforcement agencies is common in Bangladesh and has become almost a trend. Anyone taken in remand is bound to be tortured. Odhikar believes that its consistent campaign against the issue, and the constant denial of the government that torture does not exist, is one of the root causes for Odhikar being intimidated and harassed by government agencies. 4. Information related to State actions: The closure of the 2009 project has led to a halt in Odhikar s campaign for the ratification of the OP-CAT and further awareness raising activities on the issue of torture . Members of the National Security Intelligence (NSI) regularly follow members and staff of the organization and the organization is under constant surveillance by them. The Organization s support staff is asked personal questions about the members, including the number of children they have. There is strong reason to believe that all the telephones used by Odhikar are tapped. The staff and members comment on a mechanical noise in the background every time the use the telephone. In 2007, the Director of Odhikar, ASM Nasiruddin Elan was picked up by Navy Intelligence and taken to the Navy Headquarters where he was abused and threatened with death. Odhikar s local human rights defenders have been threatened and questioned when they investigated allegations of extra-judicial killings and torture. Korban Ali, Fact-finding Officer of Odhikar, was threatened over the telephone in July and September 2009, over his conducting of fact-finding missions on extra-judicial killings. He was also threatened with dire consequences if he did not stop further fact-findings into the incident of torture on a man called Liyakat Ali Babul and the extra-judicial killing of Manjur Morshed Shipu. The project on Education on the Convention Against Torture and OPCAT
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Awareness Programme in Bangladesh have been submitted by Odhikar on December 28, 2010 to the NGOAB for approval is stalled on the plea that the NGOAB is waiting for the clearance of Ministry of Home Affairs. The approval should take no more than 45 days. 5. Information on the source of the communications: Odhikar House 35 (3rd floor) Road 117 Gulshan, Dhaka Bangladesh Tel : +88-02-9888587 Fax: +88-02-9886208 E-mails: odhikar.bd@gmail.com, odhikar.documentation@gmail.com This report was created by Odhikar for submission to the Special Rapporteur. 1212