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BANGLADESH: Environmental lawyer and human rights defender Syeda Rizwana Hasan and her team have been harassed and threatened  

 15 February 2023  

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), and her team, including Aliur Rahman, an environmental journalist, were attacked by supporters of Jahurul Islam, leader of the local ruling party and councillor of the Uttar Pahartali constituency in Chattorgram municipality, on 23 January.  

These events took place while they were visiting the Lake City residential area in Chattogram, a site located on hills being razed for a housing project, impacting the local environment.  

Jahurul Islam and his men threatened and tried to intimidate the lawyer and her team by brandishing sharp weapons to prevent them from entering the site. Once they got back into their car, they were pelted with stones, with Rizwanna being particularly targeted.

Syeda Rizwana filed a complaint against Jahurul Alam Jashim with the authorities, but no legal action has yet been taken against him.  

These events are directly linked to her defense of human rights, and particularly environmental ones, in the framework of her work for climate justice. Rizwana is an environmental lawyer who, after more than twenty years of activism, has won cases against deforestation, pollution, unregulated shipbreaking and illegal land development.  

This is not the first time she and her family have been attacked and threatened. On 16 April 2014, her husband, Abu Bakar Siddique, was kidnapped by unidentified men. After being held hostage for more than 20 hours, he was left blindfolded on the road, miles from the place of abduction.   

The Observatory is concerned about these acts of intimidation which endanger the free and independent exercise of the legal profession.  

The Observatory calls on the Bangladeshi authorities to ensure that all attacks against lawyer Syeda Rizwana Hasan and other human rights lawyers in Bangladesh cease.  

The Observatory calls on the Bangladeshi authorities to ensure that an independent, impartial and prompt investigation is carried out into this incident, to bring the perpetrators to justice and to provide reparations to those harmed.  

In view of this situation, the Observatory recalls that the independence of the legal profession is one of the main indicators of democratic health and the consolidation of the rule of law. This is in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Principles on the Role of Lawyers, in particular principles 16, 17 and 18:  

Principle 16: “Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all their professional functions without hindrance, intimidation, harassment or undue interference;(…)” (b) are able to travel and consult with their clients freely, both within and outside the country; and (c) are not subject to, or threatened with, prosecution or economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with their recognized professional obligations and standards and their professional ethics.” 

Principle 17: “Where the safety of lawyers is threatened in the exercise of their functions, they shall be adequately protected by the authorities.” 

Principle 18: “Lawyers shall not be equated with their clients or their clients’ cause as a result of the performance of their duties.”