Human rights defenders in Bangladesh face judicial harassment, arbitrary arrest, fabricated charges, abduction, physical attacks, torture and extrajudicial killings. Between February 2013 and September 2017, at least 15 Bangladeshi human rights defenders and activists were murdered. Local extremist groups pledging allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent often claimed responsibility for the attacks, which have targeted HRDs who write about women’s rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, freedom of religion, and other human rights issues. Despite these risks, there was no impetus on the part of the government to address the protection needs of HRDs. The authorities have so far failed to properly investigate a majority of the murders and impunity remains a serious concern.
HRDs working on different rights issues – including indigenous peoples' rights, economic social and cultural rights, women’s rights, migrant rights, labour rights, LGBTI rights, freedom of expression, police brutality, extra-judicial killings and disappearances, and sexual and reproductive rights – report decreasing their public activism and online writings in their area of expertise. Women human rights defenders have been particularly vulnerable: many of them have been sexually harassed and assaulted, while some report receiving threats directed at their children and fear that because the killings have thus far targeted males, their sons might be attacked by proxy.
Restrictive legislation also poses a threat to the work of HRDs in Bangladesh. The 2016 Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act further restricts the space for human rights organisations by criminalizing foreign funded NGOs which engage in "anti-state activities" or make "derogatory comments about the Constitution and constitutional institutions”. The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Act of 2006 (amended in 2013), in particular its section 57 (“publishing fake, obscene or defaming information”), is used to silence HRDs and block websites with content deemed sensitive by the authorities. Faced with the criticisms surrounding the ICT Act, Bangladeshi lawmakers drafted the 2016 Digital Security Act, intended to address the need for cybercrime legislation. More than a year after the draft was approved, it has not been enacted, but the draft includes several worrying provisions for HRDs.