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Re: Killing of Aminul Islam, Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity
Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch to follow-up our earlier letters to you on August 10, 2010 and May 3, 2011 that raised our grave concerns about the safety of Babul Akhter, Aminul Islam, and Kalpona Akhter of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity (BCWS). We have recently learned that Aminul Islam was found dead after apparently suffering grievous torture under circumstances that raise concerns of involvement by Bangladeshi security forces.
Aminul Islam went missing on April 4, 2012. His body was found on April 6 outside the Brakhon Sashon Women College, close to the Tangail-Maymanshing highway in Tangail district. We urge you to order an immediate, full, and impartial investigation into Islam’s death and to hold all those responsible—no matter their status or position—to account.
According to his colleagues at BCWS, on April 4 Islam came to work around noon at the BCWS center in Baipail. At around 6:30 p.m. he headed out towards the mosque. However, when he saw a police van outside, he became worried about continuing surveillance. He called a colleague, Laboni, and suggested that they close the center. He was heading back home when he received a call from a worker named Mustafizur Rahman, requesting his assistance on a personal matter. Islam then took a rickshaw and headed towards the Baipali bus stop to meet with Rahman.
BCWS officials state that from this point onwards, they had no further contact with Islam. After about 30 or 40 minutes, Laboni received a call from Rahman, saying that he was still waiting for Islam, whose phone was switched off. At around 9:30 p.m. Laboni received a call from Islam’s wife, Hosne Ara, asking about her husband because he had failed to come home and his phone was switched off. Laboni immediately informed BCWS leaders who called the Ashulia police station to check if Islam had been arrested. They made several phone calls to the police, who said they had no information about Islam.
The next day, April 5, Hosne Ara and a senior BCWS organizer went to Ashulia police station to lodge a missing person report, but the police refused to register a case since it was not yet 24 hours since Islam had gone missing. BCWS also contacted various security agencies including the National Security Intelligence, Rapid Action Battalion, Industrial Police, Special Branch, Detective Branch, as well as several hospitals. On April 6 the Ashulia police station registered a missing person case for Islam.
On April 8 Hosne Ara called BCWS leaders to describe a photograph in a local newspaper that said that an unidentified body had been discovered two days earlier in Tangail district, which is approximately 100 kilometers north from Baipail. Islam’s wife and other family members said they were certain that it was Islam's body. When the family reached Tangail district, however, the body had already been buried since officials said it was unclaimed. However, the police showed them photographs, and the family positively identified the body as Islam’s. BCWS members told Human Rights Watch that the photographs of the body indicated signs of torture. His right leg had injuries under knee, his toes had been smashed, both knees had coagulated blood, and there were several bruises on the body. Ghatail police chief Mahbubul Haq told journalists, "He [Islam] was murdered. His legs had severe torture marks including a hole made by a sharp object. All his toes were broken.”
Family members suspect that the members of the law enforcement agencies used Mustafizur Rahman to draw out Islam, took him to an unknown location, severely tortured him and after his death left his body at the Ghatail area under Tangail District.
At the request of Islam’s family, the body was exhumed and moved to a site near his home. Islam’s brother, Rafiqul Islam said he saw apparent torture marks on the body: “We found several marks of wounds from his waist to his foot.” Police are awaiting reports of the autopsy.
Islam, along with his colleagues Babul Akhter and Kalpona Akhter, was previously arrested on the basis of a long list of still unproven charges related to labor protests that turned violent on July 30-31, 2010 in Gulshan, Tejgaon, and Ashulia areas. Those charges include 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. Yet no evidence has been presented to the defendants or their lawyers that indicate the three were involved in any way in planning or inciting violence. In fact, Gulshan and Tejgaon are industrial areas where BCWS states it has had no activities for more than a decade. BCWS leaders maintain that not only did they not incite violence, but they urged workers to peacefully petition the authorities instead of demonstrating in the streets. When he met with a senior Human Rights Watch official in December 2010 in Dhaka, Aminul Islam stated he had witnesses prepared to attest that on July 31 he was nearly 100 kilometers away in Tangail district and that between mid-June and the end of August 2010, he did not step foot in the Ashulia area.
Islam and the others were also accused of criminal intimidation, voluntarily causing hurt, mischief causing damage, house trespass and theft, and unlawful assembly during a protest at a factory operated by the Nassa Group on June 18, 2010. Workers from that factory were protesting the failure of management to meet their demands for pay increases and improvements in working conditions.
Yet Islam told Human Rights Watch in December 2010 that he was not at that Nassa Group factory because he was in hiding, having escaped on June 18 from National Security Intelligence (NSI) detention while being transferred to another location. He stated he was repeatedly tortured and threatened with death while in NSI detention, starting on June 16, 2010, after he was detained when he appeared for a meeting with the government’s director of labor. While in detention, he claimed he was also asked to sign blank documents that he was told would be used to incriminate BCWS leaders. From June 18 he remained in hiding for several months and told Human Rights Watch he had witnesses to attest to this.
Human Rights Watch is not aware of any official investigation into his allegations about his mistreatment in NSI custody. However, based on his previous detention and the circumstances under which he went missing on April 4 there are serious concerns that government security forces might be responsible for his torture and death. It is disappointing that the authorities continued to pursue Aminul Islam on what appear to be flimsy charges from 2010 instead of investigating and holding accountable any officials responsible for inflicting the severe injuries he suffered during his detention by the National Intelligence Service.
Human Rights Watch strongly urges your government to immediately launch a comprehensive and impartial investigation of the disappearance, torture, and murder of Aminul Islam, and publicly report the findings. We also urge that you press prosecutorial authorities to review the charges lodged in 2010 against Babul Akhter and Kalpona Akhter given the sparseness of evidence provided to date. Finally, we urge your government to undertake to ensure the safety and security of both Babul Akhter and Kalpona Akhter.
We would appreciate learning what steps you have taken in this regard.
Deputy Director, Asia Division