Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bangladesh: Release garment workers' leader and all trade unionists!


DESPITE raising the minimum wage after workers' strikes, the Bangladesh government is letting employers hold back payments, while unleashing law enforcement on protesting workers.

On December 12, four people including a rickshaw driver aged 35, were killed in Chittagong EPZ as garment workers clashed with police following the missed-payments of the workers. According to media reports, the management of South Korean-owned Youngone failed to pay the employees’ exact allowance but offered much less than what was originally agreed.

As the workers refused to take the reduced allowance the management feared a protest of 10,000 workers and closed the factory for an indefinite period without prior notice. This action worsened the deprivation and raised the anger among the workers, which was further aggravated by the intervention of police. As police opened fire on peaceful protesters it took a violent turn and left four people killed and eight seriously injured. Police filed cases against an unidentified 33,000 workers on trumped up charges.

During the protests and the violence led by police, the president of Garments Workers Unity Forum, Moshrefa Mishu, was visiting a town in Narsingdi. Yet, in less than two days, on 14 December, Mishu was picked up from her residence in Dhaka in the middle of the night by agents (as many as 12) claiming to be working for the detective branch (DB) of the police.

They did not have an arrest warrant, nor were they dressed in uniform. Mishu was given little time to change, but had to leave behind her medications which she used to take for asthma and spinal injury. She was produced in the Central court after midday and taken to police remand for two days on charges of vandalism – albeit with no proof of evidence.

That same weekend at least 25 workers were killed, and over 100 were injured in a clothing factory fire. Many jumped to their death because management had locked fire exits. And yet the state behaves as though it is the workers who are responsible for violence.

At the end of first two days when Moshrefa went to the court for bail they remanded her for yet another day on fresh trumped up charge of connections with Jamaat-e-Islami, a proscribed Islamist organisation and known as anti-liberation allies in Bangladesh. Both of her charges are false as no evidence has been produced yet. It is obvious that they are being used merely as a pretext to keep her away from the movement and to intimidate activists - ‘whoever speaks against the power holders will be brutally punished’.

Moshrefa Mishu’s lawyer Sadia Arman reported that Mishu is enduring brutal torture being held on DB remand. The level of physical and mental torture has reached to such an extent that Mishu could hardly walk. She was found stretching her legs as was produced at the CMM court for the third time on 19 December. Nonetheless, she was remanded for further two days that resulted in her fragile health condition and she ended up at hospital.

Mishu’s family and friends reported that permission to visit Mishu in the prison was denied and media report indicates that no prison cell was issued to her as the interrogation took place in DB Headquarter. This implies that in the name of police remand she has been interrogated by ex-army officers.

Many would presume as if the story ends here. But the story goes on. Moshrefa Mishu’s arrest remains valid even in the hospital and more disgracefully she is surrounded by male police in a female ward where most of the patients, including Mishu herself, have to use bedpans. Doctors and nurses are not allowed to speak to journalist or human rights activist about Mishu’s health. Although she is currently out of danger her health condition remains fragile. Her sister urges her immediate release as officers of DB police reminds Mishu will be on remand as soon as her health condition improves.

Dear Friends,

Moshrefa Mishu, a gifted organiser, dedicated feminist and the leader of the Garment Worker's Unity Forum has been unlawfully arrested and undergoing life threats. Her crime is she worked for the rights of garment workers in Bangladesh. I know her in person for nearly 20 years. She is a wonderful personality and brave woman. Her charges are false and we must not let her die in detention.

Please read, sign and circulate the following petition as widely as possible

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