Bangladesh court jails leading rights activists for two years

Adilur Rahman Khan (C) and Nasiruddin Elan (not in picture) have been sentenced to two years in prison. (Photo by Munir uz ZAMAN / AFP)

A Bangladesh court has sentenced two leading human rights activists to two years each in jail, a trial that critics say is part of a government crackdown ahead of elections.

Leaders of the Odhikar organisation, Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan, "were sentenced to two years in prison", Judge Zulfiker Hayat told the court on Thursday.

Khan, 63, and Elan, 57, have led Odhikar for decades, working to document thousands of alleged extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances of opposition activists, and police brutalities.

The criminal charges against Odhikar's leaders related to a fact-finding report they compiled 10 years ago on extrajudicial killings.

"They were sentenced to two years in jail for publishing and circulating false information, hurting religious sentiments and undermining the image of the state," prosecutor Nazrul Islam Shamim told the AFP news agency.

Several Western governments have expressed concern over the political climate in Bangladesh ahead of general elections due before the end of January, where the ruling party dominates the legislature.

"This verdict will send a chilling message to the human rights defenders in the country and make their work enormously difficult," said Nur Khan Liton, a former head of another of the country's leading human rights organisations.

Both men were in the court in Dhaka for their sentencing, as well as several foreign diplomats.

Odhikar has been documenting human rights violations in Bangladesh since 1994. It has worked closely with United Nations bodies and global human rights groups.

Earlier this month, the UN voiced alarm at what they said was Bangladesh's use of legal proceedings to intimidate and harass rights advocates and civil society leaders.

Both men "have faced harassment and intimidation", UN rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said last week.

Dhaka reacted angrily to the UN comments, calling it a "flagrant disrespect" of their justice system.

Last year, the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina cancelled Odhikar's operating licence after accusing it of tarnishing Bangladesh's image, prompting a chorus of condemnation from rights advocates.


Source: TRT