Bangladesh: CSO director has bank details being requested by government agency as latest form of harassmentEvent
- Initial Date
- Aug 9, 2023
- Event Description
On 9 August 2023, the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU), an intelligence agency operating under the Bangladesh Bank, requested all banks of Bangladesh to provide account details of human rights defender Zillur Rahman and the Centre for Governance Studies.
Zillur Rahman is a journalist, human rights defender, and the host of the popular late-night talk show “Tritiyo Matra”. He is also the executive director of a Bangladesh-based civil society organisation, the Centre for Governance Studies (CGS). CGS strives to promote collaborations across academia, government, private sector, civil society, and development partners to enhance governance quality, address security imperatives, optimise resource utilisation, and support political stability and socio-economic growth through democratisation and sustainable development. CGS is a leading civil society organisation in documenting cases of human rights, especially focusing on the Digital Security Act. Before CGS, Zillur Rahman was working at leading newspapers in Bangladesh such as the Weekly Bichinta, Weekly Khaborer Kagoj, Ajker Kagoj, Weekly Kagoj, Weekly Shomoy, Weekly Laboni, Weekly Bichitra and the Daily Ittefaq. Additionally, the human rights defender also worked at the World Bank (External Affairs Department) in 2000 and for UNICEF (Water & Sanitation Department) in 2001.
The BFIU indicated that the request on 9 August 2023 was made at the request of a state agency, without disclosing which agency. This lack of transparency has led to speculation regarding the motives behind these inquiries, creating a chilling effect on CGS and other civil society organisations in Bangladesh. This is the latest in a series of incidents of harassment faced by Zillur Rahman and CGS while carrying out their legitimate human rights work.
On 27 July 2023, CGS organised an event to launch a report on the challenges faced by human rights defenders in Bangladesh. The event was attended by human rights defenders, scholars, journalists, foreign mission representatives, academics, civil society members, and others. The study exclusively focused on human rights defenders in Bangladesh to better understand the challenges they encounter in their work. The report’s findings expressed concerns about the human rights situation in Bangladesh, documenting the unsafety and obstacles faced by human rights defenders in their field.
Following the event, the keynote presenter of the report faced questions attacking their merit and credibility to research and comment on the country’s human rights situation. Some of these reports also targeted other work done by CGS as part of an ongoing smear campaign against the organisation. This smear campaign against CGS was started in response to the organisation’s legitimate human rights work, including an earlier study they published on the media landscape in Bangladesh which revealed that most media houses in Bangladesh are owned by ruling party-affiliated politicians or business people.
On 23 December 2022, police visited Zillur Rahman’s ancestral home in Shariatpur district, which drew significant criticism from journalists in the country. The police talked to the human rights defender’s relatives and neighbours, asking about his work and alleged political affiliations. The human rights defender expressed the impact of such intimidation on his social media, stating that “the visit intended to scare me, my family and neighbours, and hinder my work as a journalist and works related to the think tank CGS.”
On 23 November 2022, the National Board of Revenue initiated an investigation into Zillur Rahman and CGS through its Central Intelligence Cell regarding the organisation’s transactions and financial matters. State intelligence agencies visited the locations where CGS events were held, such as the Bay of Bengal Conversation. Intelligence agents questioned hotel employees and event partners about their activities. Meanwhile, the government organised a media boycott of coverage during the international conference. Additionally, Zillur Rahman was placed under surveillance and followed by intelligence agents.
Several CGS employees have also been repeatedly questioned by the Criminal Investigation Department of the Bangladesh Police. Meanwhile, unknown parties have repeatedly attempted to hack Zillur Rahman’s, Tritiyo Matra’s and CGS’s Facebook and Twitter pages. All these events have placed the employees of CGS under constant dread, disrupting their capacity to work.
Front Line Defenders believes that the harassment against Zillur Rahman is directly related to his legitimate human rights work. Front Line Defenders is seriously concerned for the psychological wellbeing of the human rights defender.
- Impact of Event
- Gender of HRD
- Intimidation and Threats
- Rights Concerned
- Freedom of expression
- Right to healthy and safe environment
- Freedom of expression
- Media Worker
- NGO staff
- Monitoring Status
- Event Location
- Event Location
- Summary for Publications
On 9 August 2023, Zillur Rahman, media worker and host of the late-night talk show “Tritiyo Matra” and executive director of the civil society organisation the Centre for Governance Studies (CGS), had his bank details being requested to all the banks of the country by the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU), an intelligence agency operating under the Bangladesh Bank without any reason being notified, as the latest episode of harassment of the HRD in Dhaka, Bangladesh.