A Rohingya rights group involved in documenting alleged atrocities suffered by refugees who fled violence in Myanmar closed its headquarters in Bangladesh after authorities shut down electric service for undisclosed reasons, a senior leader of the group said Friday.
Activities of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPHR) had been frozen during the past two weeks after local officials snapped off power lines at its offices in Cox’s Bazar’s Ukhia sub-district, Mohammad Ayas, one of the group’s leaders, told BenarNews.
“The activities of our organization are stopped,” Ayas said. “The office of the organization has been padlocked during the past two weeks.”
Ayas said he could not explain what led to the closure, but acknowledged that his group had been under pressure since it helped organize an August protest rally attended by an estimated 200,000 people at the refugee camp.
The gathering marked the second anniversary of Myanmar’s August 2017 military crackdown, which spurred about 740,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee their homes in western Rakhine state and cross into Bangladesh.
“This organization has not been involved in anti-government activities,” Ayas said. “Its activities are focused on realizing the demands and rights of the Rohingya people.”
Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other officials are expected to be at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on Dec. 10 to 12 to defend Naypyidaw against a lawsuit filed last month by Gambia. The complaint, filed on behalf of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, alleges Myanmar committed genocidal acts against the Rohingya.
ARSPHR, whose leader Mohib Ullah had claimed he received death threats in recent months, is the biggest of several community groups to emerge among the Rohingya in the sprawling refugee settlements in southeastern Bangladesh.
ARSPHR’s makeshift office of bamboo and tarpaulin was being used as shelter and by human rights volunteers to tally killings, arson and rapes that allegedly occurred during the military crackdown.
Nikaruzzaman Chowdhury, chief of Ukhia’s local administration, told BenarNews that ARSPHR had no visible activities since the Aug. 25 rally, so authorities decided to shut off its power service.
“The unlawful electricity connection at the office has been snapped,” he said without elaborating.
A day after the rally, Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told reporters he was not aware that the massive demonstration had taken place.
But days later, the government withdrew the appointment of then-Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Muhammad Abul Kalam and transferred at least three other officials from Cox’s Bazar to other posts.
Authorities took tougher measures weeks later, restricting internet access and erecting barbed wire around the camps.
Police cannot locate group’s leader
Meanwhile, police said Mohib Ullah, a teacher who had become the ARSPHR’s face and a refugee spokesman in international gatherings, was missing.
“Since the Aug. 25 rally, Mohib Ullah has been absconding. His office has been closed. But we will investigate whether the organization maintains offices elsewhere,” Abul Mansur, the officer-in-charge of Ukhia police station, told BenarNews.
Refugee Commissioner Mahbub Alam Talukder denied that the Bangladeshi government had any role in what happened to ARSPHR.
“We did not shut down any office,” he told the news agency AFP. “But we will not allow anything that poses questions on the camps’ overall law and order situation.”