(New York) - The Bangladesh government should end the legal harassment of Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity leaders and staff and instruct its NGO Affairs Bureau to re-register the organization, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed.
Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) leaders Kalpona Akhter and Babul Akhter and staff member Aminul Islam are facing a wide range of criminal charges including attempted murder, criminal intimidation, violence against civil servants, mischief causing damage, and violation of the Explosive Substances Act of 1908 in ten cases arising from violence related to labor unrest in June and July 2010. Some of the charges could lead to the death penalty.
The prosecution has provided no evidence in public connecting any of the three labor leaders to the violence. Each has offered alibis, including one case in which one of the accused says he was with a governing party member of parliament at the time of the unrest. Human Rights Watch called for prosecutorial authorities to drop the charges or, if they have lawfully obtained evidence justifying a trial, produce that evidence in public, file appropriate charges, and accord each person a fair trial.
"Bangladesh's international reputation is at risk when prosecutors pursue such serious charges against labor activists without making the evidence public," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "With the charges against these men and the deregistering of their organization there is a strong appearance that the authorities are targeting the Center for Worker Solidarity."
Babul Akhter and Aminul Islam claim that officials tortured them in custody. Babul alleges that he was blindfolded and severely beaten by unknown interrogators while he was in custody at the Ashulia police station on August 30, 2010. Aminul states he was tortured by officials of the National Security Intelligence Agency in custody on June 16, 2010. Both say that they were threatened to be "cross-fired," or executed extrajudicially, if they did not confess to charges. The government has failed to investigate the torture allegations.
"The Prime Minister should order an immediate and impartial investigation into these allegations of torture and ensure the prosecution of those responsible," said Robertson.
Human Rights Watch called on the NGO Affairs Bureau (NAB), which operates under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister's office, to re-register BCWS as an NGO. The NAB has provided three different reasons at different times for revoking BCWS registration in 2010 and refused an appeal without explanation. The government NGO bureau says it is refusing to consider BCWS' application for re-registration until BCWS withdraws the court case it filed against the NAB's abrupt cancellation of BCWS' permit.
"The Prime Minister should order the NGO Affairs Bureau to stop playing games and re-register the BCWS without further delay or adding conditions," said Adams. "This would be an important sign that the government will treat all labor activists equally and that it isn't targeting the Center for Worker Solidarity."