Bangladesh defends arrest of prominent activist

A prominent Bangladeshi human rights activist must be held accountable for circulating "false information" about fatalities during recent unrest, Dipu Moni said.

Washington: A prominent Bangladeshi human rights activist, whose arrest last month drew US criticism, must be held accountable for circulating "false information" about fatalities during recent unrest, the nation`s top diplomat said.

But in defending the government`s handling of a case that has garnered international attention, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni appeared to misrepresent the reporting that got the activist Adilur Rahman Khan into trouble.

Speaking at a Washington think tank, Moni alleged that Khan`s human rights group Odhikar "propagated false information that thousands were killed" during a police crackdown on a rally by Islamic hardliners in the capital Dhaka on the night of May 05. She said the group had also posted manipulated images that could have sparked more violence.

She contended no one died in the police action as no lethal weapon was used.

Media reports at the time cited police confirming about a dozen deaths.

Odhikar reported 61 people died. The group declined a subsequent Bangladeshi government request to forward the names and addresses of the dead, citing concern for the security of the victims` families. Odhikar requested the formation of an independent commission before submitting the names.

Human Rights Watch described Khan`s August 10 arrest as an attempt to silence one of the Bangladeshi government`s most vocal critics ahead of upcoming elections. It said more than 50 people died in the unrest, and cited witnesses as saying that police beat detained protesters and shot others at close range with buckshot and tear gas canisters.

After Khan`s arrest, the US State Department called for his immediate release and for any legal proceedings to be transparent. It said his detention "has a chilling effect on Bangladeshi civil society and is reverberating negatively around the world."

Khan has been charged with "enraging public sentiment". Moni said investigations are still underway, and if Khan is proved innocent he will be freed.