(New York) – Bangladeshi authorities should guarantee all due process rights of two detainees who had been held hostage by armed gunmen during the July 1 siege on the Holey Artisan Bakery Café in Dhaka, Human Rights Watch said today. The two men, Hasanat Karim and Tahmid Khan, were initially held for questioning by authorities but have neither been charged nor released.
Armed gunmen attacked the café on the night of July 1, killing more than 20 people and holding others inside hostage. Security forces stormed the café on the morning of July 2, killing several of the gunmen, and securing the safety of the remaining 13 hostages. The hostages were taken to the Detective Branch headquarters, where they were questioned by the authorities.
All hostages, except for Karim, 47, and Khan, 22, were released on July 3. Their families have had little or no official information about their safety and whereabouts since. They have been allowed to send medicine and clothes, but are unsure if those were delivered to the detainees. The detainees have not been produced promptly before a judge, a right enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a party.
“The attack on the café was a horrific event, and the authorities should conduct thorough investigations by questioning those held hostage – but they must do so in a rights-respecting manner,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Karim and Khan have not had access to a lawyer, and the police continue to deny holding them although they are clearly still being held by the Detective Branch. The authorities need to either charge or release them immediately.”
Human Rights Watch noted that Bangladeshi security forces have an extensive and well-documented history of custodial abuse, including torture. Given this history, there is a real risk of harm during detention and interrogation. Human Rights Watch has documented torture and custodial abuse of those detained by Bangladeshi security forces, including of one of its own consultants, in 2008. A 2012 Human Rights Watch report documented the mass arrests, torture, and custodial deaths of those suspected of involvement in a 2009 mutiny by the Bangladesh Rifles. Subsequent investigations by Human Rights Watch before and after the violent elections in January 2014 documented arbitrary and illegal arrests, leading in some cases to disappearances and deaths. Most recently, Human Rights Watch expressed concern at the nearly 15,000 mass arbitrary arrests by the government in a much-delayed reaction to a spate of killings of bloggers, atheists, foreigners, and gay rights activists.
Karim is a UK national and Khan is a resident of Canada. Human Rights Watch called upon both the UK and Canadian authorities to press for consular access to ensure the safety and well-being of the detainees.
“The authorities holding Karim and Khan are bound by Bangladeshi law and international law to ensure that both men are accorded their full due process rights, including the right to a lawyer and the right to be produced before a magistrate, both of which are key in ensuring their physical well-being and freedom from custodial abuse,” said Adams. “The length of time the two men have been held incommunicado is a direct violation of their basic rights.”
Human Rights Watch called on the Bangladeshi authorities to admit to the detentions of the two men, to make clear their whereabouts, and to protect their rights.