Freedom of expression and an exhibition on extra judicial killings
By Jahangir Alam Akash, An exhibition on extra judicial killings has closed by the government of Bangladesh. Prominent Photo Journalist of Bangladesh Mr. Shahidul Alam has organized this exhibition. And it was opened by the eminent rights activist of India Mahasweta Devi on 22 March, 2010 at Drik Gallery in Dhaka. After that the police have closed this exhibition. Now it is proved that in Bangladesh has no right to freedom of expression. At around 1,700 people were killed there in extra judicially since 2002 (from Operation Clean heart) to March, 2010 by army, RAB, police and so-called joint forces. Many journalists were tortured and harassed by the government forces. But the perpetrators have always got the impunity.
Bangladesh: Lift ban on extrajudicial killings exhibition (Press release of Amnesty International, 23-3-2010)
Amnesty International is urging the Bangladeshi authorities to lift a ban on an exhibition of photographs raising awareness about alleged extrajudicial executions carried out by a special police unit.
“Yesterday’s closure of the Drik Picture Library exhibition “Crossfire” in Dhaka is a blow to the right to freedom of expression,” said Amnesty International’s Bangladesh Researcher, Abbas Faiz. “The government of Bangladesh must act immediately to lift the police ban and protect the right to peaceful expression in words, images or any other media in accordance with Bangladesh’s constitution and international law.”
Hours before the “Crossfire” exhibition was due to open at a special ceremony in Dhaka, police moved in and demanded that the organizers cancel it. When they refused to shut it down police closed the premises, claiming that the exhibition had no official permission to open and would “create anarchy”.
The exhibition includes photographs based on Drik’s case studies of killings in Bangladesh, which government officials have portrayed as deaths in “crossfire”.
Hundreds of people have been killed in Bangladesh since 2004 when the special police force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), was established.
In most cases, victims who die in the custody of RAB and other police personnel, are later announced to have been killed during “crossfire” or police “shoot-outs”.
Amnesty International and other human rights organizations consider these killings to be extrajudicial executions.
Human rights lawyers in Bangladesh see the closure of the exhibition as unjustified and with no legal basis. They are seeking a court order to lift the police ban on the exhibition.
Drik’s Director, Shahidul Alam says he has held hundreds of other exhibitions without needing official permission, and that “the government invoked a prohibitive clause only because state repression was being exposed”.
Abbas Faiz said:“By closing the “Crossfire” exhibition, the government of Bangladesh has effectively reinforced a culture of impunity for human rights violations. Amnesty International is calling for the government to take action against those who carry out extrajudicial executions, not those who raise their voices against it.”
The ban is also inconsistent with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s pledges that her government would take action to end extrajudicial executions.
Amnesty International is urging authorities to allow peaceful protests against the killings and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Human Rights Watch release: Bangladesh: Allow Photo Exhibit of Crossfire Killings/Prosecute Officers Involved Instead of Practicing Censorship
(New York, March 24, 2010) – The government of Bangladesh should allow a photo exhibit about extrajudicial executions in Dhaka to go ahead as planned, Human Rights Watch said today. Barring the exhibit from opening was a serious violation of freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said. There have been hundreds of such killings in Bangladesh.
The police in Dhaka closed down the Drik Picture Library on March 22, 2010, shortly before the exhibit was to open. The exhibit, “Crossfire,” by Shahidul Alam, features photographs and installations relating to alleged extrajudicial killings by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a military-dominated crime-fighting force. Officers often contend that these are “crossfire” killings, in which they killed an alleged criminal in self defense, often to prevent an escape.
“The government should address RAB’s involvement in extrajudicial executions instead of trying to silence those who are promoting public debate about the problem,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These killings can’t just be airbrushed from reality.”
Since the exhibit was closed, police officers have been stationed outside Drik, preventing the public from visiting the exhibit. The reason given by the Rapid Action Battalion and the police for closing down the exhibit, which had received international attention, was that it “lacked official permission” and would “create anarchy.” Shahidul Alam, who is managing director of Drik, told the news media, however, that Drik had organized thousands of exhibitions in the past, including some at which the present and former prime ministers attended the opening, without any requirement from the authorities for explicit permission to hold the exhibit.
Since the battalion was established in mid-2004, it has killed more than 500 people. As far as Human Rights Watch has been able to establish, no one has been prosecuted for any of these killings.
In December 2006, Human Rights Watch released the report, “Judge, Jury, and Executioner,” which documented that many of the victims of “crossfire” killings in a large number of cases reviewed had instead either been tortured to death or summarily shot. The report recommended that the battalion be fundamentally reformed or abolished.
The current government was elected on a platform that it would put an end to extrajudicial executions by security forces. However, according to its own statistics, 111 persons were killed by law enforcement officials in 2009 alone.
In recent months, the minister of home affairs, to whose ministry the battalion formally reports, has claimed that there have been no extrajudicial killings under the current government and that law enforcement officials have only fired their guns when attacked by criminals. However, investigations by human rights workers have found that the victims in many cases have been summarily shot and killed.
“The government was elected on promises of stopping extrajudicial killings and of upholding free expression,” Adams said. “Now that they are in power, they are singing a different tune. The prime minister should instruct officials not only to allow this exhibit to open, but to file criminal cases against RAB officers who act as judge, jury, and executioner.”
Bangladesh should uphold the right to freedom of expression and right to life for the interest of rule of law, democracy and for human rights. If they believe that Bangladesh is a democratic country.
Jahangir Alam Akash
The Human Rights Today