Major Gen (ret.) MA Matin
Home Affairs Adviser
Ministry of Home Affairs
People's Republic of Bangladesh
Dear Home Affairs Adviser Matin,
Thank you very much for the response of the Ministry of Home Affairs to the Bangladesh section of Human Rights Watch's World Report 2008, which was forwarded to us by the Bangladesh High Commission in London on August 8.
While we acknowledge the seriousness of the political situation leading up the declaration of a state of emergency on January 11, 2007, and appreciate the importance of government actions to reconstitute and empower public institutions, we regret that the Ministry of Home Affairs has in its response sought to deny without factual basis the serious allegations made by Human Rights Watch rather than addressing our pressing human rights concerns.
The ministry states that "there is no allegation of torture by DGFI" - the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, Bangladesh's chief intelligence agency - and that "DGFI has no interrogation cell by its own." This is not true, and there is ample evidence that the ministry knows it is not true. Human Rights Watch has collected numerous statements by credible witnesses who have given detailed and independently consistent accounts of torture being inflicted on businessmen, politicians and others in the DGFI office inside the cantonment in Dhaka. Numerous suspects remanded in police custody have instead been detained inside the premises of DGFI. Journalist and human rights worker Tasneem Khalil's detailed account of his arbitrary detention and torture by DGFI has been published in a February 2008 Human Rights Watch report. Instead of dismissing offhand the very serious allegations made in the report - to which many diplomats and government officials involved in obtaining Mr. Khalil's release can vouch - the government should be mapping out its plan to ensure such abuses do not reoccur in the future.
The Ministry of Home Affair's reply further says that, "the government and its law enforcing agencies and security forces are always respectful to the Court's verdicts and orders..." However, Human Rights Watch's research has found that many court ordered releases on bail have been delayed because prison authorities have not been granted the "required" DGFI permission to release the inmate in question. There are also numerous due process violations reported from the special anti-corruption courts and several lawyers representing some of the more high-profile prisoners have been subjected to harassment by DGFI.
As an example of the government's respect for court orders, the Ministry of Home Affairs notes that businessmen like Mr. Abdul Awal Mintoo and Mr. Babul of the Jamuna Group have been released on bail. What is not mentioned is that government authorities have used threats and extortion to force detainees to transfer arbitrary sums of money to state coffers, and reportedly also to individual accounts, in exchange for promises of not arresting the person in question and for securing releases.
Regarding the media, the ministry says that "it is free and working without hindrance." This assessment is unfortunately not shared by the media itself. On May 8, 2008, for instance, several newspaper editors and senior journalists expressed public concern about "the increasing interference of a security agency in discharging professional responsibilities of both print and electronic media."
The Ministry of Home Affairs' claim that the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) only killed armed criminals while exercising the right to self defense and saving government property is contradicted by eyewitness accounts, evidence of torture on the victims' bodies, and the fact that many victims were killed after being taken into RAB custody. Indeed, you yourself on January 29 this year acknowledged, according to press accounts, the problem of custodial deaths and instructed the security forces to put an end to such practices.
As judicial or executive inquiries have been conducted into RAB's killings, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs' response, we would greatly appreciate if these inquires could be made available to us.
Human Rights Watch remains deeply concerned by the issues raised in our 2008 World Report. We look forward to engaging in a constructive dialogue on these issues with the government of Bangladesh, and specifically with the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Cc: Mr. Allama Siddiki, Deputy High Commissioner, Bangladesh High Commission, London
Major Gen (ret.) MA Matin