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Bangladesh: New report shows government critics being murdered with impunity

At least eight people who spoke out against human rights abuses in Bangladesh have been assassinated since 2000, and scores of others have been violently attacked and seriously injured. These include journalists, writers, lawyers, academics and staff from non-governmental organizations.

Several journalists have had their fingers broken or hands deliberately maimed to prevent them from even holding a pen.

Professor Humayun Azad, a leading Bangladeshi writer and Dhaka university teacher, never recovered fully from the stab wounds he received during an attempted assassination in February 2004. He died months later reportedly of "natural causes".

Madhu Malhotra, Deputy Programme Director for Amnesty International, said:

"The Bangladeshi government’s inaction has led to a climate of impunity in which physical harassment, torture and assassination go unnoticed and unquestioned."

The new report Bangladesh: Human rights defenders under attack, finds that government officials are regularly involved in the arrest, torture and filing of trumped-up criminal charges against critics of the government and human rights activists.

In addition, armed criminal gangs, armed "student groups", and mercenaries thought to be linked to local politicians, perpetrate death threats, violent attacks and even assassinations against critics and campaigners.

Hiramon Mondol, a journalist in the Khulna Division, reported on the plight of local fishermen whose catches were being looted by soldiers.

He was detained by army personnel in August 2003 and severely beaten. The army captain told his soldiers to smash his fingers. He can no longer hold a pen in his right hand.

The prevalence of armed criminal gangs has fuelled a culture of gun violence. Many are either "student" groups affiliated to major political parties, or gangs identifying themselves as Maoist parties and allegedly linked to certain individual politicians.

Those speaking against political parties or particular politicians risk losing their lives at the hands of these gangs.

Madhu Malhotra continued:

"Only the Bangladeshi authorities can rein in abuses committed by their agents, and curb those committed by armed gangs.

"The authorities must introduce specific measures aimed at protecting people who dare to speak out about human rights abuses in the country. It is their responsibility to bring all those responsible to justice, whether they are state agents or members of the armed gangs."

Amnesty International is calling on the Bangladesh authorities to implement safeguards against arbitrary arrest and torture of human rights defenders, and ensure rigorous investigation of reports of death threats and attacks against people who expose human rights abuses in the country.

View the full report online...

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