(New York) – The Bangladesh authorities should immediately and impartially investigate the killing of the labor rights activist Aminul Islam, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed. Islam, 39, was a trade union organizer with the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity (BCWS).
Islam disappeared on April 4, 2012. His body, bearing marks of severe torture, was discovered two days later almost 100 kilometers from where he was last seen. In June 2010, he had been arbitrarily detained and tortured by members of the National Security Intelligence.
“The brutal murder of the labor leader Aminul Islam raises serious concerns of government involvement,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Past torture of Islam by the security agencies for his labor activism puts the onus on the government to show it can impartially investigate his killing and bring all those responsible to justice.”
The BCWS told Human Rights Watch that Islam was last seen on the evening of April 4, when he left his office in Baipail to meet a worker. The worker said Islam never arrived for the meeting. Both the worker and Islam’s wife reported to the BCWS that they could not reach Islam because his mobile phone was evidently switched off. Prior to leaving the office, Islam told a colleague that he observed what he believed was a police van parked outside the office – a fact that prompted Islam and his co-worker to decide to close the office early.
On April 8, family members investigated a newspaper report of the discovery of an unidentified body two days earlier near the Tangail-Maymanshing highway near the Ghatail police station. The body had already been buried, but through police photographs they confirmed that it was that of Islam. The Ghatail police chief publicly confirmed photographic evidence that Islam had been severely tortured before his death. He told the media: “His legs had severe torture marks including a hole made by a sharp object. All his toes were broken.”
Relatives who saw the body after it was exhumed and transferred for reburial close to the family home said it showed marks consistent with torture. The results of a police-ordered autopsy have yet to be released.
“There has been a rash of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh, with bodies sometimes turning up far from where the person was last seen alive,” said Robertson. “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should order government officials at all levels to take immediate action to end these horrific abuses.”
Islam, along with BCWS leaders Babul Akhter and Kalpona Akhter, had been facing trial in several cases connected to labor disputes and violence in July 2011. They were charged with a number of serious offenses, including attempted murder, criminal intimidation, violence against civil servants, mischief causing damage and theft connected to violent incidents, and violation of the Explosive Substances Act of 1908.
They had all denied these allegations, which Human Rights Watch considers to be politically motivated, and provided clear alibis. The police have done little to investigate the charges further or bring the cases to trial. Meanwhile, the BCWS leaders are required to report to the court an average of 7 to 10 days a month in order to remainout of jail.
Human Rights Watch has called for an end to the use of trumped-up charges and legal harassment of these labor activists and restoration of the legal status of BCWS, which was unilaterally rescinded, in June 2010, by the government’s Nongovernmental Organization Affairs Bureau.
“The killing of Islam shows the need for the government to take urgent measures to ensure the safety of his colleagues at the BCWS, who have also been targets of harassment and abuse by officials,” Robertson said.