The overall human rights situation in Bangladesh deteriorated in 2017, as incidents of violence against women and enforced disappearance increased, according to human rights organisation Ain o Salish Kenda (ASK).
The observation was made in an annual report styled “Human Rights Status of Bangladesh-2017: Observations of ASK” at a press briefing at Dhaka Reporters Unity on Sunday.
The report was prepared based on information from different sources, including eight national dailies.
While presenting the report, ASK Coordinator Abu Ahmed Faizul Kabir said that despite some improvement in certain areas, civil and political rights in the country did not improve as expected.
“Extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance, political violence, and repression on minorities decreased in 2017… but there was a worrying trend in enforced disappearances, as people from diverse backgrounds disappeared,” he said.
Among those who went missing or were forcibly disappeared in the year were teachers, students, publishers, political leaders and former diplomats.
According to the report, the number of rape and sexual assault, and incidents of violence against women were higher than in 2016, and freedom of expression was in under assault.
ASK Executive Director Shipa Hafiza said: “Human rights situations in any country should not deteriorate at such an alarming level. There should be measures to improve human rights for the sake of a country’s overall development.”
She urged stakeholders to come forward to help improve human rights in Bangladesh.
ASK, however, praised the government’s initiatives to achieve Sustainable Development Goals and include the private sector in accomplishing the SDGs.
It also commended the government’s efforts in giving shelter to the persecuted Rohingya people from strife-torn Rakhine state in Myanmar, delivery of verdict in the much-talked-about Narayanganj 7-murder case, and approval of draft of the Dowry Prohibition Act 2017.
ASK annual report: Violence against women
The ASK report revealed that 818 women were raped in 2017, while the number of rape victims in 2016 was 659.
Among the victims in 2017, some 47 were killed after rape and 11 committed suicide.
Around 255 women were victims of sexual assaults in 2017, a figure which was 244 in 2016. Among them, 12 committed suicide, and 13 were killed as they tried to protest.
About 303 women became victims of dowry violence. Among them, 145 were killed and 10 committed suicide. And 441 women were victims of domestic violence, including 270 killed by in-laws and 34 killed by their own families, while 57 committed suicide.
Besides, 10 women became victims of fatwa (rulings on a point of Islamic law), and 43 house maids were tortured, among whom 26 died.
Thirty two women were victims of acid violence, and one of them succumbed to her injuries.
Extra-judicial killings and custodial deaths
A total of 162 people were killed in “shootouts” and “gunfights” with law enforcement agencies and in their custody in 2017, the report adds.
Some 195 were killed in gunfights in 2016, 192 in 2015, and 128 in 2014.
Arrest, abduction and detention by plainclothes men identifying themselves as law enforcers continued throughout the year.
The incidents of enforced disappearances, however, decreased to 60 in 2017 from 97 in 2016.
Of them, 14 were shown arrested, and 16 returned to their families, two were found dead, and the rest are still traceless.
Political violence, law and order
Incidents of assault by law enforcers on peaceful demonstrations and political movements were recorded as well.
There was a mention of attacks on BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul in the report.
Repression on minorities
The ASK report shows that 258 cases of attacks on minorities, including the Hindus, took place in the year, which was 391 in 2016 and 317 in 2015.
The incidents include attacks on 45 houses and 21 business organizations of Hindu people and vandalism of 212 idols across the country.
Freedom of expression
Freedom of expression was violated on several occasions in 2017.
The rights body observed that Section 57 of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act was misused by certain quarters to suppress the people’s freedom of expression.
Some 54 people were sued under Section 57 in the year.
It said the proposed Digital Security Act includes regulations akin to Section 57 of the ICT Act, which might be abused in the similar way.
Attacks on journalists
A total of 122 journalists faced repression and assault from law enforcers, influential people, local representatives, criminals, political activists and government officials.
On February 2, 2017, Abdul Hakim Shimul, a journalist of the daily Samakal, was killed during a clash between two factions of the ruling Awami League at Shahjadpur upazila of Sirajganj.
In 2016, three journalists were killed in the line of duty, it added.
Right to health
There were reports on people dying due to negligence of physicians and hospital authorities, but no action was taken against those responsible for such deaths, the ASK said.
Afia Jahan, a student of Dhaka University, died due to wrong treatment at Central Hospital at May 18. On October 17, a baby died minutes after its birth as the mother was denied treatment and dragged out by a staff at Sir Salimullah Medical College and Hospital. ASK also voiced concerns over the draft Medical Services Act 2017, which includes impunity for physicians.