Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2004 - Bangladesh

Legal restrictions on the independence of NGOs54

The Amendment Bill to the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulations Ordinance proposed by the government continued to threaten Bangladeshi independent NGOs.

The Amendment Bill proposes the prohibition of "political activity", which "includes any activity which may be interpreted as political, or may affect politics, or such other activities which may be interpreted to be detrimental to national independence, sovereignty, culture, ethnic and religious sentiment (...)". The amendment fails to offer any guarantee that legitimate NGOs' activities, especially in the field of human rights, will not be targeted by the authorities under such a large and vague definition of political activities. In addition, the lack of precision as to what would be deemed "detrimental to (...) religious sentiment" reinforces apprehensions that women's groups, or organisations defending freedom of religion, might be undermined in their activities.

The proposed provisions also allow the authorities to remove the chief executive of an organisation if the government "is satisfied that the chief executive (...) has been responsible for any irregularity in respect of its funds or for any mal-administration in the conduct of its affairs, (...) or has caused the organisation to be involved in any political activity, or any activity influencing politics directly". This provision grants the government the power to interfere with internal NGO management. Moreover, the bill empowers authorities to dissolve an NGO and to liquidate its assets. If the bill is adopted, such a provision would annihilate the core of the NGOs' independence.

During an interview with an FIDH delegation in Bangladesh during the first week of April 2004, a high-ranking official of the NGO Affairs Bureau explicitly supported and justified the draft bill.

As of December 2004, the Amendment Bill had not yet been adopted.

Attack on the HRCBM55

On 17 April 2004, at around 8 p.m., officers of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), under the leadership of a local Member of Parliament, broke into the premises of the Human Rights Congress for Bangladesh Minorities (HRCBM) in Dhaka, ransacked and looted the offices, and physically assaulted the office assistant, Mr. Kazi Shuash Hasan, who was later taken to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital for treatment. The perpetrators of the attack occupied the premises until 22 April 2004, and threatened local members and staff of HRCBM, including Mr. Dulal Choudhury, a lawyer and vice president of HRCBM-Dhaka, of "serious consequences" if the incident was reported.

At first, the Lalbagh police station refused to register the case, but later agreed. Nonetheless, none of the perpetrators were arrested, although they were seen near the HRCBM offices.

HRCBM-Dhaka also filed a criminal case with the court of the Metropolitan Magistrate under section 145 of the Code of Criminal Procedure for restoration of the possessions of the HRCBM office. The Magistrate ordered the police to send an enquiry report, but in late 2004 the police had not submitted any report to the court and the case was still pending.

On 29 May 2004, members of the Jamaat-e-Islam party (ruling coalition partner) made defamatory statements in the national daily Inqilab, asserting that HRCBM's work was "propaganda" planned to depict the country as militantly fundamentalist. On 30 May 2004, Mr. Moulana Matiur Rahman Nizami, Bangladeshi Minister of Industries and Amir (head) of the Jammat-e-Islam party, made slanderous statements, essentially reiterating the commentary of the daily Inqilab. The news was published in the national daily Jugantor dated 31 May 2004.

Arbitrary arrests and harassment of Proshika members56

Proshika, a development NGO working on womens' rights and voters' education, has been targeted by the authorities since the BNP won the last election in October 2001, and has been under investigation for alleged mismanagement of funds for the past two years. The authorities also accused it of involvement in political activities, although no evidence supports these accusations. During this investigation, Proshika was not allowed to receive foreign funding, thus clearly hindering its ability to carry out its work. As of December 2004, the enquiry against Proshika had not yet been completed, and the association was still not allowed to receive foreign funding.

On 22 May 2004, two leaders of Proshika were arrested and detained in Dhaka. Dr. Qazi Faruque Ahmed, chairman of Proshika, was arrested while returning from the High Court, and Mr. David William Biswas, vice-chairman, was arrested at his home. Both were charged with "mismanagement of funds" and "fraud" under Section 402 of the Criminal Code. First, the lower court denied them bail, despite Dr. Faruque and Mr. Biswas' poor health (Dr. Faruque is a severe diabetic, and Mr. Biswas is partly paralysed). Since his detention, Dr. Faruque's health deteriorated. Finally, Mr. Biswas and Dr. Faruque were respectively released on bail beginning of June and end of July 2004, but had several cases pending against them. 17 fraud-and tax-related cases were filed against Proshika and/or Dr. Faruque. Recently, Proshika was accused of taking sides and campaigning for the Awami League (the main opposition party) during the last elections.

Harassment against PRIP Trust57

Mrs. Aroma Dutta, director of PRIP Trust (an NGO working in humanitarian and social fields) and member of the Proshika executive board, has been subjected to threats and harassment since 2001. In May 2004, Bangladeshi authorities threatened to arrest her upon her return to Dhaka from New York, where she was a witness in a hearing on repression of religious freedom in Bangladesh, organised by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom on 30 April. Upon her arrival in Dhaka on 7 May 2004, she was escorted by US embassy officials, and also felt it necessary to obtain anticipatory bail to protect herself and her family in the event of her arbitrary arrest. As of December 2004, the government was still intimidating and harassing PRIP Trust, especially since Mrs. Dutta was actively working on the rights of minorities in Bangladesh.

[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website (www.fidh.org) was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

54. See Open Letter to the Bangladeshi authorities, 22 April 2004.

55. See Urgent Appeal BGD 002/0404/OBS 029 and Open Letter to the Bangladeshi authorities, 10 June 2004.

56. See Open Letter to the Bangladeshi authorities, 10 June 2004.


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