As Benar News reported on 14 September 2023, the founders of human rights organization Odhikar have each been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment by the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal. Their crime goes back to June 2013 when they violated a now-defunct internet law by publicizing a high death toll caused during an overnight operation by security forces to clear a demonstration by conservative Muslim activists who were blocking a commercial zone in Dhaka.
World Watch Research analyst Thomas Muller comments: “Odhikar, which is one of the oldest and most respected human rights organizations in Bangladesh, has been suspended from operating since June 2022, when the authorities revoked its license as an NGO. Few observers believe that it was a coincidence that this suspension came as a reaction to the USA declaring sanctions in December 2021 against Bangladesh’s elite police unit, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which Odhikar claimed had been involved in extrajudicial killings. The fact that two of Odhikar’s leaders have now been given prison sentences shows how seriously the government is intent on dealing with all forms of opposition and indeed with anything seen as tarnishing the image of the state.”
Thomas Muller continues: “A further example of how Dictatorial paranoia is clearly growing in Bangladesh can be seen in the government’s reaction to criticism by the European Parliament on 14 September 2023. A junior minister called it an act of interference, saying: ‘We will take it into cognizance and not sit idle if there is any propaganda against Bangladesh’. Although not targeted against Christians, the growing Dictatorial paranoia is a worrying trend for the Christian minority; any mention of injustices taking place or even a modest call for Christians to be treated fairly in society can be perceived as an attack against those in power.”