Two well-known human rights campaigners in Bangladesh have been given two-year prison sentences by a court, which critics claim is part of a crackdown leading up to elections.
The rights group Odhikar’s Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan have consistently refuted allegations that they released a report containing fake information dating back a decade.
Prosecutors, however, claimed that their account of an Islamist group’s rally had “undermined” the nation’s reputation.
A 10-year legal process culminated on Thursday in Dhaka with the conviction of the two.
Both activists devoted decades to recording thousands of purported extrajudicial executions, opposition activist disappearances, and police abuses.
They were found guilty for a 2013 article by Odhikar about protests by an Islamist group trying to impose a stricter version of the faith on Bangladeshi society that took place in the nation’s capital.
In a midnight operation to clear demonstrators, their report said security forces killed at least 61 individuals, including children.
After the report’s publication, Khan and Elan were taken into custody before being freed on bail.
According to prosecutor Nazrul Islam Shamim, the defendants received a two-year prison sentence for spreading false information, offending religious sensibilities, and damaging the state’s reputation.
However, Human Rights Watch has noted that legal action in their case did not start until 2021, after US sanctions were imposed against paramilitary leaders in Bangladesh.
The United Nations had previously brought up the fact that both men had experienced harassment and intimidation while out on bond.
Since Sheikh Hasina took office as Bangladesh’s prime minister in 2009, her government has come under fire for allegedly targeting activists and political rivals, a charge she vigorously refutes.
The country’s elite paramilitary group was subject to penalties by the US in December because of its alleged involvement in hundreds of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial deaths since 2009.
The activists were imprisoned barely four months before Bangladesh’s next general election, and there have been increasing calls for free and fair elections.
Rights organizations have demanded the immediate release of the two men, claiming that “due process violations” in their trial, such as failing to give the defense important material until the day before the hearing, tarnished their conviction.
39 international rights organizations issued a statement that said, “In addition to targeting Odhikar’s leaders, the Government interfered with the organization’s ability to carry out its human rights work by preventing their access to funds and leaving their registration renewal application pending since 2014.”
The government revoked the group’s working permit last year, alleging that it had damaged the nation’s reputation.
Odhikar had collaborated closely with international human rights organizations and the UN under the direction of Khan and Elan. Additionally, nation reports from the US State Department mentioned its reports.