Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
The constitution provides for the rights to life and personal liberty. There were numerous reports, however, that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Police policy requires internal investigations of all significant uses of force by police, including actions that resulted in serious physical injury or death, usually by a professional standards unit that reports directly to the inspector general of police. The government, however, neither released statistics on total killings by security personnel nor took comprehensive measures to investigate cases. Human rights groups expressed skepticism regarding the independence and professional standards of the units conducting these assessments and claimed citizens were being deprived of justice. In the few known instances in which the government brought charges, those found guilty generally received administrative punishment.
Law enforcement raids occurred throughout the year, primarily to counter terrorist activity, drugs, and illegal firearms. Suspicious deaths occurred during some raids, arrests, and other law enforcement operations. Security forces frequently denied their role in such deaths: they claimed that when they took a suspect in custody to a crime scene to recover weapons or identify co-conspirators, accomplices fired on police; police returned fire and, in the ensuing gunfight, the suspect was killed. The government usually described these deaths as “crossfire killings,” “gunfights,” or “encounter killings.” Media also used these terms to describe legitimate uses of police force. Human rights organizations and media outlets claimed many of these crossfire incidents constituted extrajudicial killings. Human rights organizations claimed in some cases law enforcement units detained, interrogated, and tortured suspects, brought them back to the scene of the original arrest, executed them, and ascribed the death to lawful self-defense in response to violent attacks.
Domestic human rights organization Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) reported at least 80 individuals died in extrajudicial killings during the year, including 51 in so-called shootouts or crossfires with law enforcement agencies. Between May 2018 and June, ASK reported a total of 606 incidents of alleged extrajudicial executions. According to another human rights organization, Odhikar, of 71 incidents of alleged extrajudicial killings between January and September 30, 35 deaths resulted from gunfights with law enforcement, 30 persons were shot by law enforcement, and six others died from alleged torture while in custody. In 2020 Odhikar reported a total of 225 alleged extrajudicial executions, down from 391 incidents in 2019. Human rights organizations and civil society expressed concern regarding the alleged extrajudicial killings and arrests, claiming many of the victims were innocent.
Between January and July, local human rights organizations and media reported 10 Rohingya refugees were victims of extrajudicial killings. In Cox’s Bazar, the site of Rohingya refugee camps, Rohingya constituted a disproportionate percentage of reported “crossfire” killings. On February 23, media reported three Rohingya refugees including the ringleader of the “Zakir Bahini” gang were killed in a “gunfight” with the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in Cox’s Bazar. On July 16, media reported Luftar Rahman and Hashem Ullah, Rohingya alleged to be criminals by the government, were reportedly killed in a “gunfight” with the RAB and Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB). On July 19, media reported a Rohingya refugee with the alias “Kalimullah” was killed in a “gunfight” with the RAB in Cox’s Bazar. In all these cases, media reported security forces conducted raids to find the alleged criminals. After speaking with family members of the deceased, Amnesty International reported several of those killed were picked up from their homes by police and later found dead.
During the March 26-28 demonstrations after Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country, civil society and media reported at least 19 persons were killed and more than 100 injured (see sections 1.b., 1.d., 2.a., 2.b., and 6).
In May two suspects in the May 16 killing of businessman Shahin Uddin were allegedly killed by security forces days after their arrest. The two were accused of hacking Uddin to death in front of his son. Media reported that one of the suspects, Md. Manik, was killed in a reported gunfight with the RAB, while the other, Monir, was killed two days later, also in a reported gunfight with police. After his death Uddin’s wife filed a murder suit against 20 persons, including former Member of Parliament M.A. Awal. On May 20, the RAB arrested Awal for allegedly ordering the killing of Uddin regarding a land dispute.
In August media reported the Ministry of Home Affairs convened a senior investigation committee to investigate the killing of retired army major “Sinha” Md. Rashed Khan. As a result of the investigation, authorities suspended 21 police officers and charged nine officers. In 2020 police in Cox’s Bazar allegedly shot and killed Khan at a checkpoint. Security forces reported that Sinha “brandished” a gun, while eyewitnesses said Sinha had left the firearm in the car when he was asked by police to exit the vehicle. Sinha’s killing generated intense public discussion on police, extrajudicial killings, and law enforcement excesses.
Human rights groups and media reported disappearances and kidnappings continued, allegedly committed by security services. Between January and September 30, local human rights organizations reported 18 persons were victims of enforced disappearances. The government made limited efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts. Civil society organizations reported victims of enforced disappearance were mostly opposition leaders, activists, and dissidents. Following alleged disappearances, security forces released some individuals without charge, arrested others, found some dead, and never found others. The Paris-based organization International Federation of Human Rights reported enforced disappearances continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, targeting opposition members, political activists, and individuals who were critical of the government’s policies and response to the pandemic. Political opposition alleged police forces did not register complaints from families of those subjected to enforced disappearances (see also section 2.a.).
Following the March 26-28 demonstrations against Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country and subsequent political clashes (see sections 1.a., 1.d., 2.a., 2.b., and 6), civil society and media reported several Islamic preachers including Abu Taw Haa Muhammad Adnan, madrassa students, and those associated with the organization Hefazat-e-Islam were missing, according to their family members. Some of the disappeared were later found and subsequently arrested under various charges, including under the Digital Security Act (DSA).
On July 19, Mayer Daak (Mother’s Call), an organization of members of the families of victims of enforced disappearances, issued a statement urging the government to return the disappeared persons to their families before the religious holiday of Eid-al-Adha. The organization reported more than 500 individuals have gone missing in the country since 2009. According to the statement, the few victims of enforced disappearance who returned did not discuss their experiences due to fear of reprisal.
In August, Human Rights Watch published a comprehensive study of enforced disappearances in the country, a matter they described as becoming a predominant tactic used by security forces under the ruling government. The report was based on more than 115 interviews with victims, family members, and witnesses between July 2020 and March. It documented 86 cases of enforced disappearances during the prior decade in which the victim’s whereabouts remained unknown. It also alleged government refusal to acknowledge or investigate cases.
In November the Cyber Tribunal Court indicted photojournalist and news editor Shafiqul Islam Kajol on three charges under the DSA that were first filed in March. The court scheduled Kajol’s hearing for January 2022. The government allegedly forcibly detained Kajol in 2020 and held him in government detention for 53 days. Kajol spent a total of 237 days in prison on defamation charges and was released on interim bail in December 2020.
In September the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances (WGEID) raised concerns regarding allegations of disappearances and impunity in the country. The WGEID reported receiving complaints regularly concerning disappearances, mostly relating to alleged disappearances of members of opposition political parties. Since 2013 the government has not responded to a request from the WGEID to visit the country.
Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, local and international human rights organizations and media reported security forces, including those from the intelligence services, police, and soldiers seconded into civilian law enforcement, employed torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The law contains provisions allowing a magistrate to place a suspect in interrogative custody, known as remand, during which questioning of the suspect may take place without a lawyer present. Human rights organizations alleged many instances of torture occurred during remand. Some victims who filed cases under the Torture and Custodial (Prevention) Act were reportedly harassed and threatened, while some were forced to withdraw their cases due to fear.
According to multiple organizations, including the UN Committee against Torture (CAT), security forces reportedly used torture to gather information from alleged militants and members of political opposition parties. These forces reportedly used beatings with iron rods, kneecappings, electric shock, rape and other sexual abuse, and mock executions. Numerous organizations also claimed security forces were involved in widespread and routine commission of torture, occasionally resulting in death, for the purpose of soliciting payment of bribes or obtaining confessions.
According to international and local civil society, activists, and media, impunity was a pervasive problem in the security forces, including within but not limited to the RAB, BGB, Detective Branch of Police, police, and other units. Politicization of crimes, corruption, and lack of independent accountability mechanisms were significant factors contributing to impunity, including for custodial torture. While police are required to conduct internal investigations of all significant abuses, civil society organizations alleged investigative mechanisms were not independent and did not lead to justice for victims. Law enforcement authorities took no additional steps, such as training, to address or prevent abuses.
On January 4, media reported family members of Rejaul Karim Reja said he died in police custody four days after he was arrested by the Detective Branch of Police in Barisal. Medical reports stated Reja, a law student, died of excessive bleeding and had numerous injury marks on his body. Barisal Metropolitan Police investigated the case and alleged he died because of complications related to drug addiction. Reja’s father alleged police tortured and killed his son and demanded a fair and impartial investigation.
On February 25, media reported writer Mushtaq Ahmed died in prison after being held in pretrial detention for 10 months. Ahmed was charged under the DSA for posting criticism of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Facebook (see section 2.a.). On March 3, the inspector general of prisons told media a three-member investigation committee found “no evidence of negligence.” On March 4, the minister of home affairs announced Ahmed died of natural causes and found no visible evidence of wounds or bruises on his body. According to Ahmed Kabir Kishore, a cartoonist detained by the RAB alongside Ahmed, Mushtaq Ahmed endured “extensive torture,” including being “beaten a lot” and subjected to electric shock torture to the genitals during his detention. The RAB’s spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ashiq Billah rejected the allegations of torture and dismissed Kishore’s complaints as “lies.” Nationwide protests demanding justice for Ahmed’s death in custody lasted for weeks.
On March 4, Kishore, charged under the DSA, was released on bail. Media reported Kishore appeared visibly injured after being released. On March 10, Kishore filed a legal claim with a Dhaka court under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act alleging that he and Ahmed were tortured in custody. Although police records state he was arrested by Unit 3 of the RAB (RAB-3) in May 2020, Kishore said he was picked up from his residence by men in plainclothes three days prior. Kishore detailed the alleged torture he experienced while in custody, stating, “Every time they were not pleased with an answer, they hit me on my legs, ankles, and soles of my feet,” and that someone from behind slapped him on both sides of his head throughout RAB’s interrogations. Kishore also stated he lacked timely access to medication to control his diabetes. He reported “long-lasting side effects,” such as bleeding through his right ear, severe pain in his left knee and ankle, and difficulty with walking.
In March the UN Human Rights Council released a statement urging the “prompt, transparent, and independent” investigation into Ahmed’s death, the “overhaul” of the DSA, the release of all detained under the law, and an investigation into allegations of ill-treatment of other detainees, including Kishore. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported allegations of torture and ill-treatment by the RAB were a “long-standing concern.”
On March 14, a Dhaka court directed the Police Bureau of Investigation to launch an investigation into Kishore’s claims. On October 17, media reported the Bureau submitted to the courts the investigation report, which stated there was no evidence of Kishore’s allegations of torture against 16 or 17 unnamed individuals in plainclothes, nor was there definitive evidence that one or more persons picked up the cartoonist from home and tortured him physically and mentally in May 2020. On November 24, Kishore filed a no-confidence application against the investigation report, which the court accepted.
On June 26, 10 international human rights groups issued a statement for the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, stating the government allegedly failed to follow up on recommendations made by the CAT in 2020 to better prevent and address torture.
On July 3, media reported a three-member committee was formed to investigate the alleged torture of Indian prisoner Shahjahan Bilash after footage of the incident went viral on social media. Five officers from Cumilla Central Jail, including the chief prison guard, were suspended. Three other prison employees were also suspended for allegedly circulating the video footage.
Multiple news outlets reported a woman filed a case under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act against six persons on July 5, including three police officers, alleging she was tortured and sexually assaulted while in custody in the Wazirpur police station in Barisal District. In response to the allegations, a senior judicial magistrate court asked the district police to launch an investigation and ordered a medical report to be submitted within 24 hours of the complaint. Media reported the district police withdrew two of the accused officers from the police station and launched an investigation into the allegations. The medical report submitted to the court by the local hospital stated injury marks were found on both hands, neck, and other parts of the woman’s body. The officers accused in the case denied the allegations.
The government permitted visits from governmental inspectors and nongovernmental observers who were aligned with the incumbent party. No reports on these inspections were released. The International Committee of the Red Cross continued to support the Prisons Directorate and assisted 68 prison centers across the country, including supplying personal protective equipment and helping the government launch isolation centers to alleviate the spread of COVID-19.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the law permits authorities to arrest and detain an individual without an order from a magistrate or a warrant if authorities perceive the individual may constitute a threat to security and public order. The law also permits authorities to arrest and detain individuals without an order from a magistrate or a warrant if authorities perceive the individual is involved with a serious crime. The constitution provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not generally observe these requirements. Media, civil society, and human rights organizations accused the government of conducting enforced disappearances not only against suspected militants but also against civil society and opposition party members. Authorities increasingly held detainees without divulging their whereabouts or circumstances to family or legal counsel, or without acknowledging having arrested them.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but corruption and political interference compromised its independence. The government generally did not respect judicial independence and impartiality.
Human rights observers maintained that magistrates, attorneys, and court officials demanded bribes from defendants in many cases, or courts ruled based on influence from or loyalty to political patronage networks. Observers claimed judges who made decisions unfavorable to the government risked transfer to other jurisdictions. Officials reportedly discouraged lawyers from representing defendants in certain cases.
Corruption and a substantial backlog of cases hindered the court system, and the granting of extended continuances effectively prevented many defendants from obtaining fair trials. During the pandemic media reported many courts were closed and very few operated virtually, exacerbating case backlogs.
In January the High Court ordered the release of Md. Kamrul Islam, who was prosecuted in a fraud case based on an investigation conducted by the Anti-Corruption Commission. The High Court asked the commission to act against the investigators who apparently charged the wrong person for the crime. In 2003 the commission accused and pressed charges against Islam for using a fake certificate to obtain admissions to a college in 1998. In 2014 he was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison but was released on January 28.
The law does not prohibit arbitrary interference with private correspondence. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies may monitor private communications with the permission of the Ministry of Home Affairs, but police rarely obtained such permission from the courts to monitor private correspondence. Human rights organizations alleged police, the National Security Intelligence, and the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence employed informers to conduct surveillance and report on citizens perceived to be critical of the government.
During the year the government became increasingly active in monitoring social media sites and other electronic communications to scan public discussions on COVID-19 and the government’s handling of the virus. In March the Information Ministry announced the formation of a dedicated a unit to monitor social media and television outlets for “rumors” related to COVID-19.
On June 22, a Dhaka court issued a notice on behalf of 10 Supreme Court lawyers requesting the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to disclose the steps it had taken to prevent eavesdropping on private, telephone conversations. The notice mentioned 16 eavesdropping cases to be evaluated, which were previously disclosed by the press. Some of these cases involved eavesdropping on members of the political opposition. According to the press, the BTRC did not respond to the request.
In September 2020 the High Court asserted citizens’ right to privacy and stated the collection of call lists or conversations from public or private telephone companies without formal approval and knowledge of the individual must stop. In its verdict the court stated, “It is our common experience that nowadays private communications among citizens, including their audios/videos, are often leaked and published in social media for different purposes.”