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Last Updated: Monday, 21 June, 2004, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Aid worker charged with sedition
Proshika President Qazi Faruque Ahmed
Mr Ahmed's supporters want his immediate release
The authorities in Bangladesh have filed sedition charges against the head of one of the country's largest and most influential aid groups.

Qazi Faruque Ahmed and six co-workers are accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

Mr Ahmed is alleged to have planned the mobilisation of tens of thousands of people to take part in a big anti government demonstration in April.

His lawyers argue that the charges against him amount to "harassment".

'Political destabilisation'

Mr Ahmed is president of Proshika, one of the largest non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the world, employing thousands of people in poverty alleviation, education and development projects.

His organisation helps around two million poor women with small loans, training and education.

Proshika women's empowerment programme
Lawyers for Proshika say it is being harassed by the authorities

But according to the government, Proshika is also involved in unlawful political activities, and is trying to destabilise the country.

Mr Ahmed is alleged to have hired thousands of people during anti-government protests in Dhaka earlier this year in an effort to unseat the government.

His organisation has frequently spoken out against two Islamic parties within Bangladesh's governing coalition, who they say are opposed to women working outside of their homes.

The latest charges against Mr Ahmed come as he tries to win bail in other criminal cases registered against him, including allegations of fraud.

His lawyers argue that none of the charges against him is concrete, and that he is being harassed by the authorities.

Woman brick worker in Bangladesh
The government discriminates against women, Proshika argues

"The government has filed 15 cases against him in a single day, and this sedition charge is no different from the others," said his lawyer Rokanuddin Mahmud.

Last month the human rights group Amnesty International called for Mr Ahmed's release, saying that he was at "grave risk" of torture by police wanting to extract confessions.

Amnesty pointed out that officials from Proshika have been the target of government persecution since the general elections in 2001.

It said the authorities had blocked donor funds to Proshika and raided its offices because of the alleged financial irregularities.

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