The government of Bangladesh recently canceled the registration, or operating license, of Bangladesh-based NGO, Odhikar by an order of NGO Affairs Bureau on 5 June 2022 alleging its violation of rules and regulations and spreading propaganda in the country and beyond. The Bureau stated that “the activities of the organization are not satisfactory” and it has been operating violating the rules of government. The Bureau has identified that Odhikar “created various issues against Bangladesh by spreading propaganda against the state by publishing misleading information on its own website about various extrajudicial killings, including alleged disappearances and murders”. It added that the organization “has seriously tarnished the image of the state to the world” through its motivated and self-driven interests. NGO Affairs Bureau is a lawful government agency to oversee and regulate the activities of NGOs in Bangladesh. The order has created some hue and cry at home and abroad. Some quarters question the legality and acceptability of the decision of the government of Bangladesh. The fact of the matter is that approval or cancellation of registration is a routine work of the government.It is not the first time;Bangladesh government has cancelled registration of NGOs earlier for their violations of rules and regulations.
Although cancellation of registration of NGOs or any private or non-government entity is a common matter in any country, the same with Odhikar becomes a hot issue to its direct and indirect sponsors and beneficiaries. The so-called developed and civilized countries in the world routinely ban organizations, blacklist groups, and prohibit activities of hundreds of organizations in the name of security, terrorism, and extremism. It has become a humungous issue for the donors and Western nations and their surrogate organizations when the same is done in the developing countries or global South. This kind of hypocrisy and contradictions are commonly observed in the world, but the dominant powers remain outside of any scrutiny or debate for their hegemony and control on their sponsored groups and organizations in the developing world. Misinformation has become so widespread in the United States that the Biden Administration established a Disinformation Governance Board in recent times. So, no wonder the country like Bangladesh would face the problem of propaganda and misinformation. The government has legitimate and constitutional rule to deal with the forces behind propaganda and rumors.
Odhikar was established in 1994 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The organization started its activities on advocacy and campaign on issues of human rights in the country and beyond. Formed during the rule of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) regime (1991-1996), the organization maintained a low profile and confined its activities at the basic level. Gradually, it turned into a mouthpiece of propaganda in favor of right wing and extremist political groups in Bangladesh instead of focusing on human rights issues. The current website of this organization is also a reflection of misinformation as the identity of its president mentioned as the ‘Professor’ of Dhaka University which is not true (http://odhikar.org/about-us/executive-committee/ 13.06.2022). The authority of Odhikar has posted such kind of misinformation while it advocates for establishing human rights.
On the question of what Odhikar is doing in Bangladesh, there are several alarming issues that any government on earth is supposed to take into serious consideration. The government of Bangladesh has just performed its duty to its citizens. There are two major grounds for canceling the registration – technical and operational activities. On the technical side, the Bureau has clearly mentioned a number of reasons for their decision. First, the organization has failed to follow the article 9 (1) of the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulations Act, 2016 (FDRA). According to the Act, Odhikar is legally obliged to receive all foreign donation in international or local currency in only one central account of the organization (called mother account). In reality, Odhikar maintained eight accounts, including individual names which is a major financial corruption. Second, as a NGO and non-profit entity Odhikar cannot invest its fund in banks or any financial institutions, but it has violated this regulation. Third, the organization had eight audit objections while it applied for reregistration. Fourth, the organization failed to respond to government’s queries about its illegal and alleged anti-state activities. Fifth, Odhikar has not lawfully worked as they have never submitted their reports to the local administration although they have legal compulsions to do so. Sixth, more ominously, Odhikar has been illegally functioning without any approval of the Bureau over the past seven years. It has not submitted any documents about its works, staff and funding to the Bureau. As a result, the Bureau has acted lawfully to cancel its registration.
Although Odhikar has not officially submitted its reports to the government authority as its legal duty, the activities of this organization have created debate and controversy in the country. The character of this organization has always been political, but it particularly became evident in the backdrop of Hefazat’s (a fundamentalist outfit) anti-government sit-in in May 2013 in Motijheel, Dhaka (popularly known as Motijheel incident). Odhikar published a false report on police actions against the unruly mobs with concocted and fabricated statistics to draw global attention. It arbitrarily put the number of deaths and injuries in their reports and shared them with donors and international non-governmental organizations for their vested interests. It exposed the real motive of Odhikar which is not protection of human rights, but to dislodge the government. Odhikar is doing that in the name of human rights. In the so-called facts finding report of Odhikar on the Motjheel incident, Odhikar published the deaths of 61 activists which was a false claim. Later on, it was discovered that there were 11 fictitious names in their report, along with five duplicate names and a bunch of false information.
Odhikar continued its propaganda advocacy and campaign with the fund from the Western donors and partners. It has established networks and partnerships with international governmental and non-governmental entities keeping them in dark about its real motive. The entire outfit is engaged in the politics of regime change. The founder and current Secretary of Odhikar, Mr. Adilur Rahman was the Deputy Attorney General during the rule of BNP led 4-Party government, 2001-2007. The background of its founder and its current activities suggest that the organization is exploiting human rights issues for political gains which is supported by right wing internal forces and their foreign masters. While Bangladesh continues to remain a country of NGOs with its liberal policy and support, organization like Odhikar has cultivated poisonous mindsets and relentless propaganda against the state in the name of upholding civil and political rights. The organization has failed to maintain its own organizational norms and values. It’s a one man show (The same person, Mr. Adilur Rahman is running it for more than 28 years as its chief) heaping on selling of sensational lies and rumours about Bangladesh to the vested quarters and international conspirators. Reports and findings of Odhikar are reflections of their political motives and then they have been doing it by flouting the rules and regulations of the lawful government agencies. What a government can do but to cancel the registration of this organization to protect the rights and interests of citizens of Bangladesh.