BANGLADESH: Intervene immediately to save the life of detained journalist Mr. Mahmudur Rahman 

Today, 11 April 2013, the authorities in Bangladesh have arrested the Interim Editor of a prominent Bangladeshi daily, Daily Amardesh, Mr. Mahmudur Rahman. Officers raided Rahman’s office at about 8:30 am and taken away by the Detective Branch of Bangladesh Police. Rahman’s arrest is an attempt to stifle dissenting voice. Rahman is in a serious risk of torture and even extrajudicial execution. Rahman is not informed about the reasons for the raid, or arrest. The ministry of home affairs, however has claimed that there are “specific charges” against Rahman, which neither the ministry nor the arresting officers have informed Rahman, as required in law.

This is not the first time Rahman is subjected to intimidation for exercising his professional freedom as a journalist in Bangladesh. Rahman was arrested, tortured and unjustly convicted by the Supreme Court of Bangladesh in a controversial charge of contempt of court.

Rahman’s arrest appears to be the continuation of large-scale and indiscriminate arrest and other forms of state-sponsored threats and intimidations against dissenting voices in Bangladesh. This pattern has alarmingly increased in the past 70 days. In the context of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Bangladesh, there is a high risk that Rahman and other voices of opposition in the country, who are in the custody of the state agencies may face ‘executive elimination’. It is feared that the government will illegally detain and arrest more people, including those from the leading opposition parties, in the country within the coming days.

It is reported that the police and other security agencies are using brute force against unarmed civilians in their custody. Cases have been reported already of the police firing at persons in their custody, inside detention centers, using sub-machineguns and live ammunitions. Women, children and members of the ordinary public, amounting to an estimated 100 persons, have lost their lives at the hands of the state agencies in the past few weeks.

The government is illegally carrying out electronic and physical surveillance, including that of the human rights defenders. It is clear that the government has instructed its agencies to specifically target those, including human rights defenders, who have been critical against the government and its lack of respect for constitutional guarantees. While the space available for human rights work within Bangladesh has been shrinking for the past few years, the recent events have the potential to completely wipe out this freedom placing human rights defenders and their physical safety at extreme peril. The right to life and personal liberty of individuals as well as the freedom of expression and assembly are under serious threat.

This onslaught upon the fundamental guarantees of human dignity and freedom in Bangladesh is happening within days ahead of the Universal Periodic Review of Bangladesh at the United Nations. It clearly indicates the government’s lack of commitment and respect for human rights, and its open negation of its voluntary pledge to the international community, that it would protect, promote and fulfil human rights guarantees.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) along with a group of Asian jurists, who have come together, from 9-11 April 2013 at Bangkok, to discuss concerns regarding the independence of judges and lawyers in Asia, expresses serious concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Bangladesh, most importantly concerning Mahmudur Rahman’s safety whilst in state custody. Rahman’s arrest is not only an attack upon media freedom but also is endangering the basic principles of democracy and the rule of law in Bangladesh.

The AHRC calls upon the international community as well as the global media, not to remain silent spectators of what is unfurling in Bangladesh. The AHRC further calls upon everyone concerned to intervene in their respective capacities to ensure safety and freedom of human rights defenders and journalists in Bangladesh.