NEW YORK — Bangladesh should set up an independent body to investigate evidence that the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) was responsible for extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture and other serious abuses over many years, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday, reports IANS.

Following the abduction and apparent contract killings of seven people by members of RAB and other security forces in Narayangunj district May 2, state minister for home affairs Asaduzzaman Khan announced that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had ordered law enforcement agencies to ensure that all those responsible were found and punished.

The high court, acting on its own motion, directed that any investigation into the killings be conducted by a specially constituted body independent of the security forces, and issued an arrest warrant against three RAB officers to be tried before civilian courts.

“After years of refusing to investigate RAB, the government has changed course and reacted quickly to the Narayangunj murders,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in an open letter to Hasina.

“This is welcome and hopefully marks a shift away from years of impunity for RAB and other security forces. The prime minister must now broaden the probe and create an independent process to ensure accountability for all cases, not just Narayangunj.”

Human Rights Watch has long documented RAB responsibility for extrajudicial killings and torture.

Most recently, Human Rights Watch documented the deaths of 11 opposition activists before, during and after the Jan 5 national elections.

Inquiry Into Killing of Pak Rights Activist Demanded

The rights watchdog also asked Pakistani authorities to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation into the May 7 killing of human rights activist and lawyer Rashid Rehman.

Those responsible should be fully and promptly prosecuted, it said.

Rehman’s killing, an apparent reprisal for his willingness to represent people charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, underscores the urgent need for the government to repeal that law, Human Rights Watch said.

Two unidentified gunmen killed Rehman in his office in Multan in Punjab province.

Several weeks earlier Rehman had been threatened with “dire consequences” for defending Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University who was facing prosecution under Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

Hafeez allegedly disseminated blasphemous statements via his Facebook account though it is not known what he said, since republishing the statement could lead to blasphemy charges against those who republish it.

“Pakistan’s vaguely worded blasphemy law has led to discrimination, persecution, and murder since its imposition almost three decades ago. It should be reformed or repealed immediately,” said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch.

“It is appalling that lawyers who defend the rights of people charged with blasphemy should themselves become the targets of deadly violence.”

Rehman’s killing follows a spate of recent prosecutions under the blasphemy law, section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code.

“Rashid Rehman’s killing underscores that the blasphemy law creates dangers for both defendants and their lawyers,” Adams said.

“Killers remain free while those engaged in peaceful expression are targeted by the state and extremists.”


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