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Bangladesh: Assault and robbery of human rights defender Mr Shahanur Islam and other members of the Bangladesh Institute for Human Rights
On 25 January 2011, a named individual was arrested on suspicion of participation in the physical assault and robbery of human rights defenders Messrs Shahanur Islam, Shohel Ahmed, and Uzzal Hossain, and is currently being held in remand.
The assault and robbery took place on 9 January 2011 while the three aforementioned human rights defenders were carrying out field work in Bania/Jhargaon, Thakurgaon, Bangladesh. Shahanur Islam is General Secretary and Executive Director of the Bangladesh Institute for Human Rights (BIHR); Shohel Ahmed and Uzzal Hossain serve as Fact Finding Officer and Social Worker for the BIHR respectively. Front Line previously issued an Urgent Appeal concerning threats against Shahanur Islam on 9 August 2009.
On 9 January 2011, the three human rights defenders had travelled to the Bania/Jhargaon area of Thakurgaon district in order to carry out fact-finding in relation to a human rights violation against a minority woman. Having carried out interviews in this regard, it is reported that the human rights defenders were approached by a group of between 10 and 12 individuals, one of whom identified himself as a member of the local union Parishad, and another of whom claimed to be its Chair.
The individuals reportedly questioned the human rights defenders as to the reasons for their presence in the area and, later, levelled various accusations against them including involvement in the murder of a child, trading with a stolen motorbike, and involvement in fraudulent dollar transactions.
One of the individuals then reportedly attacked Shahanur Islam, stealing his mobile phone as he attempted to call the local police for help. Other members of the group subsequently attacked Shohel Ahmed and Uzzal Hossain, also stealing their mobile phones.
The alleged perpetrators went on to rob the three human rights defenders at gunpoint, stealing items including video cameras, a laptop computer, documents and cash. Shahanur Islam was reportedly again assaulted as he attempted to call for help.
Furthermore, it is reported that the human rights defenders were then ordered at gunpoint to pose for photographs with sums of cash in US dollars, and subsequently threatened that they would be killed and the pictures would be released and published in newspapers should they inform the police about the incident. The perpetrators subsequently fled on unregistered motorbikes.
The incident was reported to the police who later accompanied the victims back to the scene of the assault and theft, although no perpetrators were identified at the time. However, one suspect has since been arrested in connection with the crime and was brought before the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court on 26 January 2011, where it was ordered that he be held in remand for two days.
Front Line believes that the physical assault and robbery of Shahanur Islam, Shohel Ahmed and Uzzal Hossain are directly related to their peaceful and legitimate work in defence of human rights and constitutes an attempt not only to discourage such work but also to discredit them within the community. Front Line is concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of Shahanur Islam, Shohel Ahmed and Uzzal Hossain.