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Case against Odhikar officials: more persecution than prosecution

THE indictment of the director and general secretary of the human rights organisation Odhikar by the cybercrimes tribunal on Wednesday for providing ‘distorted’ information on the killing at the Hefajat-e-Islam rally in the capital Dhaka’s commercial hub of Motijheel in May 2013 looks to be an instance of the law taking the course influenced by the government, and not its own. As is recounted in a report published in New Age, upon an independent investigation, Odhikar published a report that 61 people had been killed during the early morning joint operation of several thousand members of the police, the Rapid Action Battalion and the Border Guard Bangladesh on May 6, and recommended that a judicial inquiry into the incident should be commissioned. However, the government dismissed the report and ignored the recommendation, and the police filed a case against the two top Odhikar officials, both of whom landed in jail and were subsequently released on bails obtained from the High Court. 
It is worth noting that, in the wake of the Motijheel mayhem, there was intense speculation across society that the joint operation may have resulted in a significant number of deaths, with many, not necessarily affiliated with Hefajat, claiming that the toll was in the range of 100 to 2,000. Amidst such speculations, the AL joint general secretary claimed that ‘there was no killing’ during the operation, which, intriguingly, did not even tally with the figures put forth by two ministers of the AL-led government, thereby reinforcing suspicion that the incumbents may be trying to cover up what had actually transpired. Moreover, there is yet to be any investigation into the incident, and thus no incontrovertible figures.
The question then is: on what basis has the cybercrimes tribunal arrived at the conclusion that Odhikar has provided ‘distorted’ information when the government has not conducted any investigation in the first place? There is every reason to suspect that the two Odhikar officials may be prosecuted or, to be precise, persecuted, because they dared challenge the government’s position on the Motijheel mayhem. There is also every reason to believe that the judiciary, especially the subordinate courts, remain influenced by the incumbents although theoretically it is separated from the executive branch of the state.
Whatever the outcome, the case against the Odhikar director and general secretary look more like a vengeful action by the incumbents than an actual pursuit of justice, and make a mockery of the government’s self-professed commitment to the rule of law. It is imperative then that the rights-conscious sections of society raise the voice and mobilise public opinion so as to make the incumbents scrap the cases and instead institute a credible inquiry to find out what actually transpired on May 6.

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