Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
The constitution provides for the rights to life and personal liberty. Media and local and international human rights organizations reported the government or its agents committed numerous arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Suspicious deaths occurred during raids, arrests, and other law enforcement operations. Often security forces claimed they took a suspect in custody to a crime scene or hideout late at night to recover weapons or identify conspirators and that the suspect was killed when his conspirators shot at police. The government usually described these deaths as “crossfire killings,” “gunfights,” or “encounter killings,” terms used to characterize exchanges of gunfire between RAB or police units and criminal gangs, although the media sometimes also used these terms to describe legitimate uses of police force. Human rights organizations and media outlets claimed many of these “crossfire” incidents actually constituted extrajudicial killings (EJKs), In some cases, human rights organizations claimed that law enforcement units would detain, interrogate, and torture suspects, bring them back to the scene of the original arrest, execute them, and ascribe the death to lawful self-defense in response to violent attacks. One human rights organization reported that 150 individuals were killed in “crossfire” incidents in the first nine months of the year, including 34 by RAB, 11 by the Detective Branch of police, one by the Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB), three in a joint SWAT operation, and 61 by other police forces. Another human rights organization reported that security forces killed 118 individuals in the first nine months of the year.
Authorities claim that on August 5 a suspected Islamic extremist named Shafiul Islam Don was killed in a gunfight that occurred when attackers fired on a RAB vehicle transporting the suspect. RAB officials claim that Don confessed in custody to participating in a July 7 attack on an Eid ceremony in Sholakia. Similarly, Ghulam Faijullaha Fahim died in police custody on June 18 when officers allegedly took him to capture his associates, who then attacked police. Local persons had apprehended Fahim when he attempted to attack a mathematics teacher on June 15, and they turned him over to police. Other suspects were killed when police tried to apprehend them. For example, on June 19 police killed Shariful Islam Shihab, a suspect in the murder of the blogger Avijit Roy. Authorities stated that Shariful and two accomplices opened fire on the police as they tried to flee on a motorbike; the two accomplices reportedly escaped.
Although not as numerous or widespread as 2015, politically motivated killings continued by both members of the ruling and opposition parties. A human rights organization reported that political violence resulted in 209 deaths. Violence committed by student and youth wings of political parties was a problem. Violence also occurred between supporters of the ruling party. In July, one person died when two factions of the Bangladesh Chhatra League clashed at Comilla University over placing wreaths at the portrait of founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
As of October, groups claiming affiliation with transnational terrorist organizations, including Da’esh and AQIS, claimed to have killed 39 individuals, including members of religious minorities, academics, foreigners, LGBTI activists, and members of security forces. Another 31 attacks were unclaimed. Members of the Hindu minority population constituted a significant portion of the victims.
Human rights groups and media reported that multiple disappearances and kidnappings continued, some committed by security services. The government made limited efforts to prevent or investigate such acts. The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances contacted the government on March 9 concerning the “reportedly alarming rise of the number of cases of enforced disappearances in the country” and had 34 outstanding cases under review as of May 18, but the working group did not receive a response. Following alleged disappearances, security forces released some individuals without charge, arrested some, some were found dead, and others were never found. A human rights organization claimed that individuals in law enforcement uniforms or claiming to be law enforcement “kidnapped” 84 individuals in the first 11 months of the year. Targets of disappearances included individuals affiliated with opposition political parties.
On the night of August 22, Abdullahil Amaan Azmi, son of convicted war criminal and former Jamaat leader Ghulam Azam, was allegedly abducted from his Dhaka apartment by men in plain clothes who reportedly identified themselves as members of the Detective Branch. Unlike his father, Azmi was never an official member of Jamaat. He is a known figure in Bangladesh politics and active on social media, however, and his Facebook posts were often critical of the government. Similarly, on August 9, Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem, son of top Jamaat leader and convicted war criminal Mir Quasem Ali, was allegedly abducted. Mir Ahmed had been serving as the legal representative for Jamaat until his abduction. On August 4, Hummam Quader Chowdhury, son of senior Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader and executed war criminal Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, was also reportedly picked up by unidentified men. They are widely reported to remain in government detention.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, local and international human rights organizations and the media reported security forces, including RAB, intelligence services, and police, employed torture and physical and psychological abuse during arrests and interrogations. Security forces reportedly used torture to gather information from alleged militants although members of political opposition parties claimed that security forces also targeted activists within their parties. Security forces reportedly used threats, beatings, kneecappings, and electric shock, and law enforcement officers sometimes committed rapes and other sexual abuses. Two prominent human rights organizations stated that security forces tortured eight persons to death in the first nine months of the year.
The law contains provisions allowing a magistrate to place a suspect in interrogative custody, known as remand, during which questioning of the suspect can take place without a lawyer present. Human rights organizations alleged that many instances of torture occur during this remand period as a means of obtaining information from the suspect. On November 10, the Supreme Court issued guidelines for arrest without warrant and interrogation of suspects on remand, aimed at preventing legal detention of citizens not charged with a crime. In its bid to reduce custodial torture, the court issued guidelines for law enforcement personnel as well as the courts regarding medical checks for detainees on remand and probes into allegations of torture. The court also asked the government to amend certain sections of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to reduce police abuse of citizens (see section 1.d).
A human rights organization claimed that law enforcement personnel shot 16 detainees in the legs during the first 11 months of the year. A Human Rights Watch report released in September detailed the cases of 25 individuals shot in the legs by security forces since 2013, including one case in 2016 when a news reporter and human rights organization volunteer Mohammad Afzal Hossain was shot in the leg by security forces while reporting on voting irregularities in an election between two Awami league candidates in Rajapur. On January 15, Anwar Hossain Mahbub, Joint Secretary of a ward-level BNP unit, was arrested and allegedly tortured in prison, leading to his death on February 16. Idris Ali, a madrassa teacher and two-time local council chairman candidate for Jamaat, was reportedly kidnapped by plain-clothes security officials on August 4 and found dead on August 12 with alleged signs of torture, including broken hands and legs and cut tendons. On June 8, police in Jessore reportedly tortured a 16-year-old boy named Ainul Haque Rohit for allegedly stealing a motorbike. A human rights organization stated that police detained Rohit for 30 hours during which they blindfolded him; beat his joints, fingers, toes, and soles of his feet with a wooden rod; stuffed his vest in his mouth; and poured water in his nose for 10 minutes. The police reportedly released Rohit after receiving a bribe from his family. There was no accountability for these specific actions, and the government rarely charged, convicted, or punished those responsible for similar abuses.
Security forces at times committed rape and other sexual abuse of detainees and others. On May 22, assistant sub-inspector Delwar Hossain of Dagonbhuiyan Police Station, with assistance from officer Abdul Mannan, raped a woman who went to the station to file a complaint over a family dispute. The woman later filed a case under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act and the authorities brought the two men to court, where they were found guilty and sent to prison.
Starting in January, the government investigated allegations that two Bangladeshi peacekeepers sexually abused a minor in the Central African Republic in 2015. One was dismissed from service and sentenced to one year in prison, and the allegations against the second peacekeeper were found to be unsubstantiated. The government continues to investigate an allegation, which came to light in February 2016, that a Bangladeshi peacekeeper sexually exploited an adult in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in late 2015/early 2016. The government made the example of the peacekeeper sentenced for sexual abuse in the Central African Republic available as part of an awareness-raising campaign and incorporated it into the pretraining peacekeeping deployment curriculum.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions remained harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate facilities, and lack of proper sanitation. Odhikar stated these conditions contributed to custodial deaths, with 54 prisoners dying in prison in the first 11 months of the year.
Physical Conditions: According to the Department of Prisons, in October there were 78,578 prisoners in a system designed to hold 36,614 inmates. Authorities often incarcerated pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.
Due to overcrowding, prisoners slept in shifts and did not have adequate toilet facilities. According to GIZ, the prisons do not meet minimum standards for adequate light, air, decency, and privacy. Human rights organizations and the media stated some prisoners did not receive medical care or water although prison authorities stated that each prison has access to water. Water available in prisons was comparable with water available in the rest of the country, which was frequently not potable. Human Rights Commission Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque told the media on August 23 after visiting the newly built Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj that human rights are being violated in the prison. He further said, “We will visit the prison every three months to improve the situation.” Despite the new facility, there were still problems there. Prisoners at the new Dhaka Central Jail told the media in May that they must pay approximately 30,000 taka ($381) per month for food, bathing and toilet use, places to sleep, and other services. Authorities reportedly charged additional fees for visits with family members.
Conditions in prisons, and often within the same prison complex, varied widely, because authorities lodged some prisoners in areas subject to high temperatures, poor ventilation, and overcrowding. The law allows individuals designated as VIPs to access “division A” prison facilities with improved living conditions and food, more frequent family visitation rights, and provision of a poorer prisoner to serve as an aide in their cell.
While the law requires holding juveniles separately from adults, many juveniles were incarcerated with adults. Children were sometimes imprisoned (occasionally with their mothers) despite laws and court decisions prohibiting the imprisonment of minors.
Authorities routinely held female prisoners separately from men. Although the law prohibits women in “safe custody” (usually victims of rape, trafficking, and domestic violence) from being housed with criminals, officials did not always provide separate facilities. Women were not permitted to leave this custody without permission from the authorities.
Although Dhaka’s new central jail has facilities for people with mental disabilities, specific provisions generally do not exist for people with disabilities. Judges may, however, reduce punishments for persons with more significant disabilities on humanitarian grounds and jailors may make special arrangements, for example, transferring inmates with more significant disabilities to the prison hospital. The prison hospital accommodates people with physical disabilities, the elderly, and those with broken limbs and cardiac problems, among other issues.
Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen for prisoners to submit complaints. Prison authorities indicated that they are constrained by significant staff shortages. The scope for retraining and rehabilitation programs was extremely limited.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross and assistance from some international donors. The government allowed the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society to visit foreign detainees. Government-appointed committees composed of prominent private citizens in each prison locality monitored prisons monthly but did not publicly release their findings. District judges occasionally visited prisons.
Improvements: On July 29, prison authorities transferred 6,511 inmates from the 200-year old Dhaka Central Jail to a new location in Keraniganj on the outskirts of Dhaka. The new facility was built to accommodate 4,590 inmates, meaning the new facility was immediately overcrowded, but less so than the old jail. Those on trial are housed in six buildings while convicts are in two similar structures. Four buildings house more dangerous criminals, such as those convicted of violent crime, militants, and terrorists. There are 16 special cells for VIP prisoners, which include current and former ministers, members of parliament, senior civil servants, and individuals of similar status.
The new jail has facilities for 200 female inmates, 100 male adolescents, 40 female adolescents, 30 male prisoners with mental disabilities, and 20 female prisoners with mental disabilities. The jail has 60 classified wards and 400 cells for dangerous prisoners. The new jail also has a 200-bed hospital and a daycare center.
Other facilities, such as the Old Dhaka Central Jail, have poorer light, sanitation, ventilation, and other conditions and do not meet UN/Mandela standards.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government sometimes failed to respect these rights. There were significant limitations on freedom of speech. Some journalists self-censored their criticisms of the government due to harassment and fear of reprisal.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution equates criticism of the constitution with sedition. Punishment for sedition ranges from three years’ to life imprisonment. Several high profile individuals were charged with sedition, including BNP leader Khaleda Zia, TV personality Mahmudur Rahman Manna, and reporter Kanok Sarwar, but the government did not proceed with prosecutions. The law limits hate speech but does not define clearly what constitutes hate speech, leaving the government with broad powers of interpretation. The government may restrict speech deemed to be against the security of the state; against friendly relations with foreign states; and against public order, decency, or morality; or that constitutes contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offense.
Press and Media Freedoms: Both print and online independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, media outlets that criticized the government experienced negative government pressure. For example, independent journalists alleged that intelligence services influenced media outlets in part by withholding financially important government advertising and pressing private companies to withhold their advertising as well.
The government maintains editorial control over the Bangladesh public television station (BTV), and private channels were mandated to air government content at no cost. Civil society said that there was political interference in the licensing process, as all television channel licenses granted by the government were for stations supporting the ruling party.
Violence and Harassment: Authorities, including intelligence services on some occasions, subjected journalists to physical attack, harassment, and intimidation. In February, members of the ruling party initiated 79 sedition and defamation cases in multiple courts against Mahfuz Anam, editor of The Daily Star, for publishing reports of corruption involving Prime Minister Hasina in 2007 and 2008. Hasina publicly stated Anam’s newspaper and its sister media outlet, Prothom Alo, would be punished for publishing the reports.
The government imprisoned several prominent editors affiliated with the BNP, including the arrest of 81-year-old journalist Shafiq Rehman in April on charges relating to his alleged role in a plot to cause harm to Hasina’s son. On September 6, the Supreme Court granted him three-month conditional bail after four and a half months of detention. The government continued to pursue charges against the editor of Amar Desh, Mahmudur Rahman, whom police arrested in 2013 for publishing Skype conversations between the Chairman of the ICT and a private consultant on ICT cases. Although the High Court granted Rahman bail on September 8, the Appellate Court chamber judge stayed his bail until October 30, further prolonging his detention of nearly four years. Rahman was released on bail on November 23.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Privately owned newspapers usually enjoyed broad freedom to carry diverse views. Political polarization and self-censorship in an atmosphere of fear remained a problem, however. The media generally favored one of the two major political parties. Ownership of the media is influenced by politics, and both the government and big businesses used advertising as a weapon to control the media.
The government sought to censor the media indirectly through threats and harassment. On multiple occasions, government officials asked privately owned television channels not to broadcast the opposition’s activities and statements. One talk show host reported overt censorship from Directorate General of Forces Intelligence personnel, who intimidated and threatened the host and the channel until owners finally cancelled the program. When the host continued working on another program, he reported receiving word for word instructions from security forces for behavior on air and being subject to surveillance and death threats via text, letter, and voice messages. The host was ultimately forced to flee the country. The well regarded newspapers Prothom Alo and Daily Star were denied access to prime-ministerial events because they published reports critical of the government and prime minister.
Both the government and businesses used the threat of pulling advertising dollars to pressure the media to avoid unfavorable coverage.
According to some journalists and human rights NGOs, journalists engaged in self-censorship, particularly due to fear of security-force retribution. Although public criticism of the government was common and vocal, some media figures expressed fear of harassment by the government.
The government did not subject foreign publications and films to stringent review and censorship. Some international media outlets reported delays and difficulties in obtaining visas. One television producer reported that the government would only issue a visa if the government were allowed to review and approve their coverage. A government-managed film censorship board reviewed local and foreign films and had the authority to censor or ban films on the grounds of state security, law and order, religious sentiment, obscenity, foreign relations, defamation, or plagiarism, but it was less strict than in the past. In January the Bangladesh Censor Board upheld a ban on the movie “Rana Plaza,” originally set to premier in September 2015. The film told the story of a garment factory worker’s 17-day fight to survive under debris following the April 24, 2013 eponymous factory collapse. Video rental libraries and DVD shops stocked a wide variety of films, and government efforts to enforce censorship on rentals were sporadic and ineffective.
The government at times censored objectionable comments regarding national leaders. In April, the government refiled a criminal defamation complaint against news editor Probir Sikder for “tarnishing the image” of a minister.
National Security: In some cases, the government criticized media outlets for reporting that allegedly compromised national security. The prime minister and other government officials criticized local media for their live telecast of government counter terrorism efforts during the July 1 Holey Bakery terrorist attack and, following the incident, the government enacted a blanket ban on live television news coverage of terrorist attack and disaster rescue operations.
Nongovernmental Impact: Atheist, secular, and LGBTI writers and bloggers reported they continued to receive death threats from extremist organizations. Following his inclusion in a “hit list” of 34 individuals published online by Ansar al-Islam (a purported AQIS affiliate) in November 2015, one blogger reported frequent threats via Facebook messenger and persistent surveillance, including an incident in April when four masked individuals with weapons followed him before being scared away by police. On April 7, blogger Najimuddin Samad was killed in Dhaka; investigation into the murder was ongoing.
A journalist at a prominent newspaper reported receiving frequent death threats since September 2015, including from persons claiming affiliation with Da’esh. The journalist reported receiving almost daily text messages with threats and passages from the Quran describing death, such as “consider doomsday as if tomorrow,” and “all will see the Prophet at the graveyard.” Several other outlets experienced similar threats, some of which culminated in bias-based murders.
There were isolated incidents of government restriction and disruption of access to the internet and censorship of online content. Approximately 14.4 percent of the population has access to the internet according to the International Telecommunication Union. The BTRC reported approximately 63.9 million internet subscriptions in July, including roughly 60 million mobile internet subscriptions (one individual may have more than one subscription). Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephony were illegal, but the laws were rarely enforced against individuals.
There were several incidents of government interference in internet communications, filtering or blocking of access, restricting content, and censoring websites or other communications and internet services. Many websites were suspended or closed based on vague criteria, or with explicit reference to their pro-opposition content in violation of legal requirements. The BTRC is charged with the regulation of telecommunications. It carries out law enforcement and government requests to block content by ordering internet service providers to take action. In May the BTRC blocked encrypted communication applications Threema and Wickr as well as several blogs and Facebook posts it deemed to be crafted in “malice to Islam.” The BTRC Chairman later stated that the BTRC only blocks websites or services upon the request of law enforcement or MOHA and does not take independent action to block any websites or services. In July, the BTRC carried out a directive of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police to block 30 websites and Facebook pages for allegedly inciting militancy or running anti-religion propaganda. On August 2, the BTRC initiated a temporary shutdown of internet and mobile telephone services in a section of Dhaka city. BTRC officials stated that the exercise, the first in a series of temporary shutdowns, was to test the agency’s ability to restrict access to communications to protect public safety in the event of an emergency, such as a terror attack. On August 4, the BTRC carried out a directive to block 35 news websites that had published material critical of the government and current political leaders or were perceived to feature overt support for political opposition groups. Many of the sites remained blocked at the end of the year.
Facebook’s “biannual government requests report” for January to June 2016 showed the government made nine requests for data pursuant to legal process regarding eight users or accounts and one emergency request for data regarding one user or account in that period. Facebook reported producing some data in response to one request pursuant to legal process and one emergency request. The 10 total requests for data regarding nine users or accounts made by the government in the first half of 2016 is a slight decrease from the 12 requests for data regarding 31 users or accounts made in second half of 2015. Facebook further reported that two pieces of content were restricted at the BTRC’s request in the first half of 2016, due to alleged violation of local law regarding blasphemy and the Bangladesh Information and Communications Technology Act.
Google’s biannual transparency report for July to December 2015 showed the government made two requests for removal of two YouTube videos in that period. One request was related to alleged defamation and the other was related to alleged copyright violation. Google, which owns YouTube, did not comply with either request. Twitter’s biannual Transparency Report for January to June 2016 showed no requests for data or content removal from the government. In Twitter’s July to December 2015 report, the government made 10 requests for account information regarding 25 accounts, all pursuant to emergency disclosure requests. Law enforcement officers may submit an emergency disclosure request to Twitter on the basis of an exigent emergency that involves the danger of death or serious physical injury to a person that Twitter may have information necessary to protect. Twitter provided some information in response to six of those requests.
Individuals and groups generally engaged in the expression of views via the internet, although some activists stated that fear of prosecution under the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICTA) limited their online speech. The government used the ICTA and the threat of sedition charges, which carry a possible death penalty, to limit online activity and curtail freedom of expression online. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission filtered internet content that the government deemed harmful to national unity and religious beliefs. The ICTA was amended in 2013 to increase penalties for cybercrime, make more offenses ineligible for bail, and give law enforcement officers broader authority to arrest violators without a court order. Opponents of the ICTA stated that section 57, which criminalizes the posting online of inflammatory or derogatory information against the state or individuals, stifles freedom of speech and is unconstitutional. The High Court previously rejected pleas challenging the constitutionality of section 57. The Cabinet approved a draft of the controversial digital security act in August, which includes a provision for life imprisonment for spreading negative propaganda through digital devices regarding the country’s independence war and founding leader. The law was under review by the Law Ministry at the year’s end.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
Although the government placed few restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, media groups reported authorities discouraged research on sensitive religious and political topics that might fuel possible religious or communal tensions. Academic publications on the 1971 independence war were also subject to scrutiny and government approval. Appointment of teachers in universities continued to be politicized, and in September the Ministry of Education suggested that police or intelligence agencies should review teachers’ personal information to ensure that they are not involved in antigovernment or criminal activities.