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Bangladesh: In Defence of Sultana Kamal Who Has Been Threatened By Islamists - Newsreports and statements from human rights groups

10 June

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A select compilation of news reports and statements by human rights groups regarding the threat by Islamists to Sultana Kamal the prominent public intellectual and human rights activist in Bangladesh

sacw.net - 10 June 2017 [updated on 13 June 2017]

Contents:

  • Hefazat demands arrest of Sultana Kamal within 24 hours
  • Hefazat demands a public apology from Sultana Kamal
  • In defence of Sultana Kamal, for democracy and secularism
  • Sultana Kamal: They don’t understand reason
  • We stand by Sultana Kamal: Eminent citizens tell protest meeting following threats by Hefajat
  • Punish Hefajat leaders for threatening Sultana Kamal: Demand students, rights activists, civil society members at rally
  • Statement by Amnesty international ’Bangladesh: Human rights defender threatened with violence: Sultana Kamal’
  • Statement by Front Line Defenders - ’Sultana Kamal publicly threatened by Islamist hardline group Hefazat-e-Islam’
  • PEN Bangladesh Centre condemns violent threats and baseless accusation against Sultana Kamal
  • Joint Statement – Bangladesh: Conduct a credible investigation into threats of violence and ensure protection of Sultana Kamal - FORUM ASIA

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[NEWS REPORTS]

Dhaka Tribune, 2 June 2017

Hefazat demands arrest of Sultana Kamal within 24 hours

Manik Miazee

Sultana Kamal drew the ire of Hefazat with her hypothetical arguments made on a News24 talk show with Hefazat leader Mufti Shakawat HossainNashirul Islam/Dhaka Tribune

Hefazat Vice-President Junayed demanded that the government remove the Lady Justice statue from its new location immediately

Hefazat’s Dhaka city unit leaders on Friday demanded the arrest of rights activist Sultana Kamal within 24 hours, after the committee took offence to hypothetical arguments she made on a News24 talk show.

Vice-President of the Qawmi madrasa-based platform Junayed Al-Habib voiced the demand at a protest programme on the relocation of the Lady Justice statue held at Baitul Mukkaram National Mosque.

The Hefazat leader demanded that Sultana Kamal either be arrested within a day or be exiled from the country like Taslima Nasreen.

Junayed said: “How dare Sultana Kamal! She said that if the statue is not in the country then mosques should not be in the country. If you [Sultana Kamal] come out to the streets, we will break every bone in your body.”

However, at the talk show in question, in response to Hefazat leader Mufti Shakawat Hossain’s statement that no religious structures should be on the Supreme Court premises, Sultana Kamal said: “Then no mosques should be on the premises either.”

When contacted on the phone, Sultana Kamal told the Dhaka Tribune that she had meant no harm to any other religious sentiments.

Meanwhile, Junayed also demanded that the government remove the Lady Justice statue from in front of the apex court’s annex building.
Hefazat stages a protest at Baitul Mukkaram National Mosque, calling for the removal of the Lady Justice statue from its new location at the annex building Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Hefazat stages a protest at Baitul Mukkaram National Mosque, calling for the removal of the Lady Justice statue from its new location at the annex building Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Addressing the prime minister and the chief justice, he said: “You will remove the idol from the annex building or we will come to remove it ourselves. If we have to remove the idol, we will remove all idols from Bangladesh.”

Hefazat leaders at the programme also claimed that the idol was installed to satisfy the whims of foreign groups.

Hefazat Vice-President Mujibur Rahman Peshwari said: “Prime Minister [Sheikh Hasina], you are losing votes for the actions of just three or four people. Indian Prime Minister Modi will not keep you in power. This election will not be like the one on January 5, 2014.”

Hefazat leaders also claimed that Chief Justice SK Sinha had lost his credibility and they called for his resignation.

In addition, Hefazat’s Dhaka city committee chief Nur Hossain Kasemi said that they would stage large-scale protests after Ramadan if the statue was not removed at the soonest.

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Dhaka Tribune, 5 Jun, 2017

Hefazat demands a public apology from Sultana Kamal

by Anwar Hussain, Chittagong

http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2017/06/02/hefazat-arrest-sultana-kamal/

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siawi.org - June 3, 2017

In defence of Sultana Kamal, for democracy and secularism

Threats to Sultana Kamal

It has been a shock to discover in the media (http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2017/06/02/hefazat-arrest-sultana-kamal) that Hefazat was calling for Ms Sultana Kamal’s immediate emprisonment or forced exile.

Ms Kamal is a highly respected human rights advocate - well known nationally and internationally - whose work i have been following for the past 35 years.
She was also one of the very first women to join the struggle for the liberation of Bangladesh and her credentials in terms of loyalty to her country are impeccable. How could such a national figure be threatened with being forcibly sent out of her own country, into exile?

If i understand correctly, in a talk show in which Ms Kamal also participated, Hefazat leader Mufti Shakawat Hossain defended the view that a statue representing Justice (traditionally erected in front of a Court of Justice), was akin to an idol and that idols had no place in a Muslim country.
It is highly debatable that a Greek-style statue of Justice could be equated to an idol, as if it were part of the iconography of a specific religion.

Moreover, Hefazat leader stated that no religious structures should be on the Supreme Court premises. In response, Ms Kamal quite logically pointed out that his own statement would lead to the conclusion that mosques should also be banned from the premises.

If such a classic statue were a religious one - which is clearly not the case -, it would fall under the ban of all religious structures, as would and should in fact be the case in any secular country such, as Bangladesh.
Alternatively, in any democratic country, all citizens and subsequently their religious views would be treated at par, and any religious structure could be tolerated.

We will follow closely the decisions the present government of Bangladesh will take in the coming days, regarding the protection of rights of prominent citizens such as Ms Sultana Kamal.

marieme helie lucas

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Dhaka Tribune, 4 Jun, 2017

Sultana Kamal: They don’t understand reason

Tribune Desk

’You cannot say anything in this country. There can be no reasonable debate’

Rights activist Sultana Kamal has said that the Islamic fundamentalist group Hefazat-e-Islam cannot engage in a reasonable argument.

After the group threatened violence against her and demanded her arrest over a conversation in a television talk show, Sultana told the Bangla Tribune on Friday over phone that her statement had been grossly misinterpreted.

“You cannot have a proper debate with Hefazat,” she said.

“They do not want to accept rational arguments. The government should take action against them for threatening ordinary citizens with physical violence.”

Hefazat’s Mufti Shakhawat Hossain was a guest at the talk show besides Sultana and other politicians and activists. The issue that day was the removal of the Lady Justice statue from the Supreme Court premises.

“That day, a question was raised that what is the issue with the sculpture being there. The Hefazat representative said it is an idol, a religious symbol and it should not be on the court premises,” Sultana said.

“So I said, I agree with you, the court premises should not have any religious edifice. But according to you, the mosque should not be there either.”

Asked about the threat, she said: “You cannot say anything in this country. There can be no reasonable debate.”

In reply to a question, Sultana said: “Let the government see that they are issuing open threats. The government arrests so many people on so many issues. If someone says anything about the prime minister, they are arrested. This group has even said things about the Chief Justice.”

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The Daily Star, June 09, 2017

We stand by Sultana Kamal

Eminent citizens tell protest meeting following threats by Hefajat

JPEG - 39.1 kb

Prof Ajoy Roy speaks at a programme organised under the platform “Nagorik Samaj” in the capital’s Cirdap auditorium yesterday, protesting threats given to rights activist Sultana Kamal and other prominent citizens by Islamist group Hefajat-e-Islam. On his right are rights activists Khushi Kabir, Maleka Begum and Hameeda Hossain, and on his left are former deputy governor of Bangladesh Bank Khondkar Ibrahim Khaled and economist Prof MM Akash. Photo: Star
Staff Correspondent

Instead of taking any initiative to reign in Hefajat-e-Islam’s communal and anti-liberation roles, the government rather encouraged the Islamist force, eminent citizens told a protest meeting yesterday.

They also said the government had made no progress in establishing justice in the recent cases of violence and rampage Hefajat unleashed.

The eminent persons, who organised the programme under the banner “Nagorik Samaj” at the capital’s Cirdap, strongly condemned the recent ultimatum and threats given to rights activist Sultana Kamal and other prominent citizens by Hefajat.

The protesters extended their support for her.

"We stand by Sultana Kamal,” said Prof Ajoy Roy, who chaired the meeting.

The father of Avijit Roy, who was killed by fundamentalist groups, said the nation should not forget the contribution of Sultana Kamal and her family during different struggles and movements.

Reading out a written statement on behalf of the citizens, economist Prof MM Akash demanded immediate arrest of those who distorted Sultana’s speech and threatened her.

"Even after the public threat against Sultana Kamal and the person who threatened her being identified, no arrest attempt or legal action has been taken by the law enforcement agencies.

"This is all too familiar. The trend of impunity not only puts Sultana Kamal’s life at risk, but also raises questions about the government’s commitment to its constitutional duty to ensure security of the citizens," he said.

The written statement said, "Because of the protection granted by a section of the government they can dared to spread lies, distort and engage in communal rhetoric that goes against the spirit of the country, in a holy place such as the Baitul Mukarram mosque."

Around 30 eminent persons from different sectors spoke at the event.

Referring to the rise of religion-based groups in different countries, journalist Abed Khan said fundamentalist groups spread their wings and rose to the helm whenever they were given a little chance.

"The so-called compromise will bring disasters," he said, adding, Bangladesh was heading towards a dark era, and there was no scope to remain silent now.

Executive Director of Manusher Jonno Foundation Shaheen Anam said the allegations against Sultana Kamal were false and fabricated and that those were created in a planned way only to silence her voice.

"She speaks without fear. Many people may not like it," she added.

Shahriar Kabir, president of Ekaturrer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, said that after Hefajat’s 2013 mayhem and suing of its activists and followers, the prime minister promised not to give them any chance to repeat such an incident.

"The government needs to explain why it was given space now," he added.

Narayanganj-based cultural activist Rafiur Rabbi, whose son Taqi was kidnapped and murdered four years ago, said it was imperative to find out whether the incident involving Sultana Kamal aimed at serving vested interests.

Rabbi, who is now facing a lawsuit filed by Hefajat, said the Islamist group was used for suing him.

Dhaka University’s Prof Gitiara Nasreen said progressive minds should come under a single platform to identify the evil forces playing from behind and launch a movement against those.

Nasimun Ara Haque Minu, convener of Bangladesh Nari Shangbadik Kendra, said the country had already stepped into a dark era by giving space to Islamist groups like Hefajat.

Former deputy governor of Bangladesh Bank Khondkar Ibrahim Khaled said there was no scope to tolerate those who threatened Sultana. The culprits should be brought under book immediately, he said.

Women’s rights activist Maleka Begum urged the progressive people to wage a movement against communal forces.

Economist Prof Abul Barkat said the threat against Sultana was linked to the ill-motive to turn the country into a communal and militant state.

Moderated by Nijera Kori coordinator Khushi Kabir, rights activist Hameeda Hossain and cultural personalities Syed Hasan Imam and Sara Zaker, among others, attended the programme.

On June 2, Hefajat leaders from a rally in front of Baitul Mukarram gave an ultimatum to the government to arrest Sultana within 24 hours or send her into exile. Hefajat’s threat came after a recent television talk show, now available on YouTube.

Hosted by DU teacher Robaet Ferdous, the programme was participated by Sultana Kamal, Hefajat leader Mufti Shakhawat Hossain, Gonojagoron Mancha spokesperson Imran H Sarker, and former Awami League lawmaker Apu Ukil.

At the talk show, referring to the statue of Lady Justice on the Supreme Court premises, Shakhawat said there should be no religious structures on the court premises, Sultana told The Daily Star. "I said, yes, I agree with you. There should be no religious structures on the court premises. Not even mosques," she said.

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The Daily Star, June 10, 2017

Punish Hefajat leaders for threatening Sultana Kamal

Demand students, rights activists, civil society members at rally

JPEG - 59.9 kb

Protesters in the capital yesterday protest the recent spate of attacks across the country on minorities, including the indigenous community at Longadu. They also protested the issuing of threat against Sultana Kamal. Photo: Star
Staff Correspondent

Students, rights activists and civil society representatives yesterday demanded that the government arrest the Hefajat-e-Islam leaders who threatened eminent rights activist Sultana Kamal.

They also demanded abolishing section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act and immediately release those who were arrested under the provision.

According to section 57, if any person deliberately publishes any material in electronic form that causes deterioration of law and order, prejudices the image of the State or a person or causes to hurt religious belief, the offender faces jail term for a maximum of 14 years.

The demands were made at a rally organised by a student and civil society representatives’ platform in front of the national museum in the capital’s Shahbagh.

“No one was arrested so far for making the threat…and the government did not even condemn it,” said Nijera Kori Coordinator Khushi Kabir.

“We won’t accept it. The government should… arrest those who gave the threat,” said the noted rights activist.

Dhaka University Prof MM Akash alleged that the government came into a liaison with Hefajat for the upcoming national polls, but they [the government] will not get their votes.

He termed section 57 of the ICT act “a bizarre provision”.

Bangladesh Chhatra Union (BCU) General Secretary Liton Nandi condemned the recent arrest of BCU activist Chaina Patowary, a 17-year-old girl from Rangamati, under the provision 57 and demanded her immediate release.

Earlier on June 2, Hefajat leaders from a rally in front of Baitul Mukarram gave an ultimatum to the government to arrest Sultana Kamal within 24 hours or send her into exile. Hefajat’s threat came after a recent television talk show, now available on YouTube.

Hosted by DU teacher Robaet Ferdous, the programme was participated by Sultana Kamal, Hefajat leader Mufti Shakhawat Hossain, Gonojagoron Mancha spokesperson Imran H Sarker, and former Awami League lawmaker Apu Ukil.

At the talk show, referring to the statue of Lady Justice on the Supreme Court premises, Shakhawat said there should be no religious structures on the court premises, Sultana told The Daily Star. "I said, yes, I agree with you. There should be no religious structures on the court premises. Not even mosques," she said.

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STATEMENTS FROM INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS:

Statement by Amnesty international

Bangladesh: Human rights defender threatened with violence: Sultana Kamal

7 June 2017, Index number: ASA 13/6441/2017

Prominent human rights defender Sultana Kamal has received threats of violence from the Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam, following comments she made on a TV talk show. The authorities must take immediate steps to ensure Sultana Kamal’s protection, investigate the threats made against her and hold those responsible to account.

Sultana Kamal is a lawyer and prominent human rights activist in Bangladesh who used to serve as the Executive Director of the human rights NGO, Ain O Salish Kendra. Since 2 June, she has received numerous threats of violence from supporters of the Islamist group Hefazet-e-Islam (Hefazat). The threats against her relate to a recent controversy around the removal of a statue of the Lady of Justice outside the Supreme Court in Dhaka on 26 May 2017. Although the government claims that the removal was a decision made by the Court, and not the government, critics say that it was a move by the government to win favour with conservative Islamist groups. Such groups have for months campaigned for the statue to be taken down, arguing that it is an “idol” and anti-Islamic.

On 28 May, Sultana Kamal appeared on a debate show, on private TV channel News 24, together with Mufti Shakhawat Hossain, a member of Hefazat. During the debate, Mufti Shakhawat Hossain argued that the statue was a religious structure and that no religious structures should be on the Supreme Court’s premises. Sultana Kamal responded hypothetically that if that was the case, then logically "no mosques should be on the premises either". There was no adverse reaction from Mufti Shakhawat Hossain to her comments on the programme or over the next few days. However, on 2 June, during Friday Prayer at the country’s largest mosque Baitul Mukarram in Dhaka, her comments were distorted. The Hefazat Vice President Junayed Al-Habib said: “How dare Sultana Kamal! She said that if the statue is not in the country then mosques should not be in the country. If you [Sultana Kamal] come out to the streets, we will break every bone in your body.” Hefazat also demanded that she be arrested within 24 hours or forced to leave the country. Numerous YouTube videos have been posted by Hefazat supporters since 2 June threatening or inciting violence against her.
On 6 June, police in Dhaka announced that they had taken unspecified measures to provide protection to Sultana Kamal. As far as Amnesty International is aware, however, no senior government official has publicly condemned the threats against her, nor has a police investigation been launched into the threats.

Please write immediately in Bengali, English or your own language urging the Bangladeshi authorities to:

  • Take immediate action to ensure the safety of Sultana Kamal, in coordination with her wishes;
  • Conduct a thorough, impartial, independent and effective investigation into the threats made against Sultana Kamal and bring those against whom sufficient admissible evidence of criminal wrongdoing exists to justice in trials which meet international standards of fairness;
  • Ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out peaceful activities without fear of surveillance, intimidation, harassment, arrest, prosecution or retribution, and guarantee the integrity of human rights defenders, including against attacks or threats coming from non-state groups.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 19 JULY 2017 TO:
Inspector General of Police AKM Shahidul Hoque Police Headquarters Phoenix Road
Fulbaria 1000 Dhaka Email: ig@police.gov.bd Fax: +880 2 9563 362
Salutation: Dear Inspector General

And copies to:
Ministry of Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan
Bangladesh Secretariat, Building-8 Dhaka, Bangladesh
Fax: +880 957 3711
Email: stateminister@mha.gov.bd

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below.
Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Hefazat-e-Islam are a coalition of Islamist groups with close links to Bangladesh’s quami madrasa system, the system of privately owned madrasas which operate without government oversight.
The statue in question depicted the Lady of Justice, a blindfolded woman holding a sword in one hand and a pair of scales in the other, wearing a traditional Bangladeshi sari. Conservative Islamist groups, including Hefazat-e-Islam, have for months campaigned for its removal, arguing that it is “idolatory” and therefore anti-Islamic. On 26 May, the statue was moved from outside the Supreme Court to a new location a few hundred metres away. Although the government claimed that the removal was a Supreme Court decision, it has been widely criticised by human rights organisations and others as a way for the government to placate conservative groups. After the removal, Hefazat representatives publicly demanded the removal of all statues in Bangladesh.

The human right to freedom of expression is provided in human rights treaties to which Bangladesh is a party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As such, Bangladesh state officials must not impose excessive or arbitrary restrictions on the exercise of these rights. Sultana Kamal has clearly done nothing but peacefully exercised her right to freedom of expression, and should not be subjected to threats of violence.
The Bangladeshi authorities have a poor track record of protecting human rights defenders and holding to account those who make threats against them. In a recent report, Amnesty International documented how human rights activists have often been ignored or harassed when approaching police for protection after receiving threats, or even sometimes threatened with criminal charges; for more information see Amnesty International’s recent report, Caught between fear and repression: Attacks on freedom of expression in Bangladesh, available here. It is also extremely rare for perpetrators of threats or violent attacks against activists to be brought to justice. For example, although at least seven secular activists have been killed by armed groups in Bangladesh since 2013, in only one of the cases have the alleged perpetrators been convicted and sentenced.

Name: Sultana Kamal Gender m/f: f

SEE ORIGINAL PDF VERSION OF FULL STATEMENT BY AMNESTY HERE

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Statement by Front Line Defenders

8 June 2017

Sultana Kamal publicly threatened by Islamist hardline group Hefazat-e-Islam

On 2 June 2017, human rights defender, Sultana Kamal, was publicly threatened with arrest, exile and violence by radical group Hefazat-e-Islam Dhaka City Committee, who willfully misrepresented the comments she made during a talk show broadcast on the private news channel News 24.

Sultana Kamal is a human rights defender and lawyer known for her work on civil and political as well as gender rights. She served as the Executive Director of Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a legal aid and human rights organisation in Bangladesh for over 15 years. In addition to that, she is the Chairperson of the We Can End Violence Against Women Alliance, Chairperson for Transparency International Bangladesh and also Co-chairperson for the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission.

In its recent investigative report, Front Line Defenders found Bangladeshi authorities systematically refuse to investigate attacks, killings and threats against human rights defenders, and called the country a "lethal environment for HRDs who advocate for human rights-related reforms to which those pushing a fundamentalist Islamic agenda are opposed."

On 2 June 2017, Hefazat-e-Islam Dhaka City Committee called for the arrest of Sultana Kamal and threatened her with violence following a TV show in which she participated. Discussing the removal of a sculpture representing Lady Justice from the Supreme Court premises, Sultana Kamal argued with Hefazat-e-Islam representative, Mufti Sakhawat Hossain, that if the group’s position was that no religious edifice should be put in the court premises, by the same argument the mosque that is inside the premises should not be there either. After the talk show, Hefazat’s Vice-President Junayed Al-Habib claimed Sultana Kamal had called for the removal of all mosques from the country and demanded her arrest within 24 hours. Members of the organisation threatened her with violence and said she would share the same fate as author, Taslima Nasrin, who has been in exile since 1994 due to her human rights advocacy. Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ramna Division and the Detective Branch declared on 5 June they had taken joint measures for providing protection to Sultana Kamal. However, the human rights defender said that the law enforcement agency merely spoke to her and said that they are keeping a close eye on her neighborhood as part of their protection effort.

Front Line Defenders expresses concern at the threats against human rights defender, Sultana Kamal, which it believes are solely motivated by her peaceful and legitimate work for human rights in Bangladesh.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Bangladesh to:

1. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the threats and intimidations against Sultana Kamal, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;

2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Sultana Kamal as well as of the members of her family;

3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Bangladesh are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

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via PEN International

PEN Bangladesh Centre condemns violent threats and baseless accusation against Sultana Kamal

12 June 2017

Sultana Kamal, a prominent lawyer and human rights activist of Bangladesh, has recently received threats from the religious group called Hefazat-e-Islam. In light of the views she shared on a television talk show regarding the removal of the statue of Lady Justice from Bangladesh’s Supreme Court premises, Hefazat-e-Islam demanded that Sultana Kamal be arrested or exiled. More importantly, they made threats of physical harm.

As an organisation that firmly believes in the tenets of freedom of speech and expression, we at PEN Bangladesh Centre are deeply troubled by this vehement, unabashed public promise of violence against an important member of the Bangladeshi community.

The Constitution of Bangladesh promises to accommodate people of all creed, caste, and religion. This basic element of the framework of our nation allows not only the coexistence of people of varied beliefs, but also mutual respect for each other’s views.

We are a country whose very identity is shaped by its historic fight for linguistic, cultural, and ideological liberty; a country known they world over for establishing the International Mother Language Day. As a people whose very social fabric is woven by the strength of language, we cannot and should not stand by the silencing of that language. We cannot condone the thoughts, ideas and beliefs of our people to be stripped of dignity, to be threatened with violence.

It is a matter of deep concern that a group of people are able to issue a public statement that describes in such cruel detail the violence that a prominent public figure will be subjected to if she steps outside of her house.

PEN Bangladesh Centre condemns this threat against such a vital social and cultural figure.

We are concerned that the common people, not all of whom are able to afford protection, are exposed to greater danger each day that such promises of violence are tolerated on a public platform.

PEN Bangladesh Centre demands the safety not only of Sultana Kamal, but of each and every member of our community who hold the right to their own beliefs, whose voices should not be silenced for fear of being misconstrued, and who should not have to fear for their lives for speaking their minds.

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Forum Asia - 13 June 2017

Joint Statement – Bangladesh: Conduct a credible investigation into threats of violence and ensure protection of Sultana Kamal

We, several international and regional civil society organisations express deep concern over violent threats received by Sultana Kamal, a prominent lawyer and women human rights defender in Bangladesh. Sultana received these threats from the radical Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam (Hefazat), a coalition of teachers and students of quami Madrasas[1], after expressing her opinion on a news channel’s talk show.

On 28 May 2017, news channel News 24 invited Sultana, together with Awami League Parliament Member Apu Ukil, Garanajagaran Mancha Spokesperson Imran H Sarker, and Hefazat representative Mufti Sakhawat Hossain to discuss the removal of the lady justice sculpture from the Supreme Court premises. Hefazat-e-Islam and other radical Islamist groups had insisted the statue needed to be dismantled on 26 May 2017 arguing that instituting the statue would lead to idol worshipping which is against the tenets of Islam.[2] During the talk show, the Hefazat leader remarked that the statue was a religious object and as such should not be placed on Supreme Court premises. Sultana responded with hypothetical argument that if no religious structure is permitted, then no mosques should be on the premises either. Based on this statement, Hefazat demanded her arrest within 24 hours. Hefazat Vice President, Junayed Al-Habib, further stated that ‘we will break every bone in [her] body.’[3] Triggered by the threat made by Hefazat, Sultana received various other threats, including on social media. One person posted a photo of Sultana which was edited to make it look like she was being hanged.[4] The Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ramna Division and the Detective Branch said on 5 June 2017 that they were taking joint measures to ensure the safety of Sultana. So far, efforts to ensure her safety are limited to closely monitoring her neighbourhood.

We are concerned by the threats faced by Sultana. Violence has been used numerous times to stifle freedom of expression and the legitimate and peaceful work of human rights defenders in Bangladesh.

We urge the authorities in Bangladesh to:

  • Openly and unequivocally condemn Hefazat’s statements and threats against Sultana Kamal and other Bangladeshi civil society, as their silence reinforces a culture of impunity which emboldens extremists to act criminally without fear of prosecution, and affirms extremists views that are counter to Bangladesh’s Constitution, Penal Code, and commitments to international human rights standards and SDG 16 on Peace, justice and strong institutions.
  • Carry out all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychosocial security of Sultana, her family members, and her fellow human rights defenders;
  • Assure Sultana does not face additional gender-based discrimination or violence stemming from her being a woman human rights defender; and
  • Ensure an enabling environment for human rights defenders to carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities, including expressing their opinion freely, without any fear of reprisals, harassment or intimidation from state and non-state actors.

We remind the Government of Bangladesh, as a citizen of Bangladesh, Sultana Kamal has the constitutional rights to (i) ‘enjoy the protection of the law, and to be treated in accordance with law’, Article 31 (ii) the ‘protection of right to life and personal liberty’, Article 32, and (iii) ‘the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression’, Article 39.

Signed:

  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  • Front Line Defenders
  • Amnesty International
  • South Asians for Human Rights
  • Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development
  • Association for Progressive Communications
  • International Service for Human Rights

For a PDF version of this statement, click here.

***

[1] Quami Madrasas are privately owned Madrasas which operate without government oversight
[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/26/lady-justice-statue-bangladesh-removed-islamist-objections
[3] http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2017/06/02/hefazat-arrest-sultana-kamal/
[4] pic.twitter.com/e36anWEZex

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