Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasir Uddin Elan, the secretary and director of the human rights organisation, Odhikar, were both found guilty today of an offence under the now repealed Information and Communication Technology Act 2006.
Their offence centred around a report they published claiming that 61 people died following a protest held by the madrasah-based Islamic group Hefazat-e-Islam in May2013.
The government had claimed that 11 people died around the time of May 5 and 6 protests, including during the massive forced dispersion operation carried out overnight by a joint law enforcement force consisting of the police, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).
A report by Human Rights Watch found that at least 58 people were killed over the two days and amid the overnight military-style operation, during which law enforcers also shut down two television channels that were broadcasting live from the area of the protest.
Rumours had spread the next day that hundreds or thousands of people were killed by law enforcement forces, amid photos of the brutal eviction operation circulating around social media. The Odhikar report was the first substantive documentation to provide credible information regarding the number of deaths which effectively dismissed the rumour mill claims of the number of dead but also contradicted the government’s assertion that 11 people had died .
72 organisations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned the convictions against Adilur and Elan men, referring to the underlying case as “trumped up charges” and calling for the “immediate release” of the two human rights advocates.
The European Parliament has also called on the Bangladesh government "to immediately and unconditionally quash the ruling".
The US embassy expressed its “concern” about the judgement stating that it “may further undermine the ability of human rights defenders and civil society to play their vital democratic role.”
At the time of publication, no other governments had issued statements.
Shortly before he went to court to hear the verdict, Adilur Rahman spoke briefly to Netra News. He said that they should have been acquitted.
“Whatever we have done has been done for the cause of human rights and the cause of justice. This is our motto, our belief. If we get a fair judgement, we will be acquitted. And if we are imprisoned whenever we come out again, we will continue [doing human rights work],” said Khan.
He also explained why Odhikar did not initially publish the names of victims.
“Definitely we have done our fact finding. We did not publish the list of the names at the time as the families of the deceased were scared to make their names public. The families saw the authorities as perpetrators and did not want to expose themselves further by giving them their names to the authorities,” he told Netra News.
Odhikar decided to do this out of its responsibility to protect the families of the victims, the organisation’s secretary and acclaimed rights activist said.
“Odhikar’s responsibility was not only to do an investigation, to fact-find and to document, but also to protect the interests of the families and the victims.”