Free Bangladeshi journalist, jailed for garment industry reporting

This 2 January 2017 video is called Bangladesh garment factory workers fired over strike.

Another video, no longer on YouTube, used to say about itself:

27 December 2016

At least 1,500 workers have been sacked from Bangladesh garment factories after protests forced a week-long shutdown at dozens of sites supplying top European and American brands.

Tens of thousands of workers walked out of factories this month in the manufacturing hub of Ashulia which make clothes for top western brands such as Gap, Zara and H&M, prompting concerns over supply during the holiday season.

The protests were sparked by the sacking of 121 workers, but soon evolved into a demand for the trebling of workers’ pay from the current monthly minimum of 5,300 taka (£54).

From daily News Line in Britain:

Friday, 6 January 2017

RELEASE NAZMUL HUDA! – first journalist to report on the Rana Plaza danger

REPORTERS Without Borders (RSF) call for the immediate release of Nazmul Huda, a reporter who was arrested on 24 December 2016 because of his coverage of a strike by garment workers in Ashulia, the Dhaka suburb where Bangladesh’s biggest garment factories are located.

The police accuse Huda, who works for Bangla Daily and Ekushey TV (ETV), a privately-owned satellite TV service, of reporting false information and encouraging the strike that began in mid-December in factories that produce clothes for leading international retail chains such as Gap, Zara and H&M.

Huda’s computer and mobile phone were seized at the time of his arrest. He distinguished himself in 2013 by being the only reporter to draw attention to structural problems in the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka before it collapsed, killing hundreds of garment workers and others.

A Dhaka police officer told Agence France-Presse that Huda is also accused of ‘destabilising the government’ and of meeting secretly with seven trade union leaders, who have also been arrested. The authorities say he was arrested under section 57 of the Information, Communication & Technology Act (ICT Act), which states that deliberately publishing material in electronic form that ‘causes to deteriorate law and order, prejudice the image of the state or person, or causes to hurt religious belief’ is punishable by seven to 14 years in prison.

RSF called for the complete repeal of the ICT Act in September 2013 on the grounds that it ‘enables the government to gag netizens (citizens of the net) and to arrest and detain them without legitimate grounds’.

The amendments adopted in August 2013 ‘permit even more arbitrary behaviour by the police and judicial authorities towards news providers,’ RSF said at the time. Harun Ur Rashid, local correspondent for Deutsche Welle (DW) and former head of programming at ETV, said Huda was the only journalist to have filmed the cracks in the support pillars of the Rana Plaza, a building that housed many garment factories.

Huda’s report was broadcast shortly before the building collapsed in April 2013, with a toll of 1,138 dead and more than 2,000 injured. Rashid praised the ‘unparalleled courage’ of Huda, who reportedly received many death threats after the arrest of the Rana Plaza’s owner, and said he deserved to be recognised for his work instead of ‘being treated like this by the authorities’.

Two days before Huda’s arrest, the powerful Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association decided to close 55 factories in Ashulia on the grounds that they feared acts of vandalism.

Nazmul Huda stands accused of incorrect reporting and holding secret meetings with union leaders – a charge that has been denied by at least one of his employers. He was the first journalist to report on problems with the structure of the Rana Plaza complex, just a day before it collapsed in 2013, killing more than 1,100 people.

The collapse of the building sparked global outrage and put the spotlight on working conditions, low wages and safety standards in a garment sector that manufactured clothes for some major global brands. Garment manufacturing makes up the vast majority of Bangladesh’s exports and any interruption is likely to have an impact on the economy.

It was the sacking of 121 workers that prompted the initial walkout last month. The workers’ protest soon expanded to demand a monthly minimum wage of 16,000 taka (£165; $203). It is currently 5,300 taka (£55; $67).

But factories nevertheless resumed operations on Tuesday 27th December and that was when hundreds discovered they had lost their jobs, reports say. Union chiefs said police used a controversial law to shut down the protests. Ashulia is a vast garment production hub used by clothing companies around the world, including Western giants like Zara, Gap and H&M.

See also here.

The Bangladesh government and the country’s garment industry employers are continuing a joint assault on apparel workers who have been involved in major strikes and protests for higher wages and other demands in a Dhaka industrial area. The repression is aimed at preventing a broader eruption by workers against the living and working conditions they face: here.

Bangladesh government opens apparel factory in prison: here.

Hundreds of Bangladesh readymade garment workers demonstrated outside the national press club and other parts of Dhaka last Friday, a day after the government announced a miserable pay offer from the Minimum Wage Board (MWB). Garment workers have not had their pay increased since 2013. They are demanding minimum monthly pay rates be set at 16,000 taka ($US189.63): here.

9 thoughts on “Free Bangladeshi journalist, jailed for garment industry reporting

  1. Friday, 17 February 2017

    Dozens of Bangladesh workers’ leaders are facing fabricated criminal charges

    DOZENS of garment workers and labour leaders are facing unfair or apparently fabricated criminal cases in Bangladesh after wage strikes in December 2016, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

    Arbitrary arrests by the Bangladesh police are growing with each passing day – nine more union organisers were arrested on February 10, taking the number of known arrests to 34. ‘Targeting labour activists and intimidating workers instead of addressing their wage grievances tarnishes Bangladesh’s reputation and makes a mockery of government and industry claims that they are committed to protecting worker’s rights,’ said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Global garment brands sourcing from Bangladesh and aid donors should press the government to stop persecuting workers and labour rights activists.’

    Thousands of garment workers outside Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, participated in wage strikes between December 11 and 19 last year. They came from an estimated 20 factories that supply global brands based in the Ashulia industrial area. According to information by local groups and official information, the vast majority were from factories that had no unions.

    The national union federations deny they had any role in or prior knowledge about these strikes. But the Bangladesh authorities used these strikes as a justification to arrest national union federation leaders and labour activists for ‘leading’ and ‘planning’ the strikes. Targeting labour activists and intimidating workers instead of addressing their wage grievances tarnishes Bangladesh’s reputation and makes a mockery of government and industry claims that they are committed to protecting workers’ rights.

    Workers say that strikes are often the only means for them to raise their grievances, in part because the government and local employers retaliate against union organisers and workers trying to organise. As a result, workers are unable to bargain collectively with employers and use formal channels for addressing grievances.

    The workers coalesced behind a demand for a monthly minimum wage increase from 5,300 takas (US$67) to 15,000 ($187) or 16,000 ($200). In 2016, the Fair Labour Association found that the purchasing power of a Bangladesh factory worker’s average compensation was below the World Bank poverty line.

    Both the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Export Association (BGMEA) and the government rejected a wage review. The export association closed about 60 Ashulia factories for several days, effectively locking out thousands of workers and ending the strikes.

    In early January 2017, about 20 global brands sourcing from Bangladesh, including H&M, Inditex, Gap, C&A, Next, and Primark, wrote to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina supporting a wage review and expressing their concerns that union leaders and worker advocates were targeted.

    Rights groups have information about 10 criminal complaints filed in December 2016, implicating about 150 named workers and over 1,600 ‘unknown’ people for crimes, including property destruction at the factories, during the strikes. Union leaders and organisers have also now been questioned or arrested in relation to older cases.

    These groups are aware of 34 people who were arrested, most of them union leaders. In addition, a journalist from the ETV, a local news channel, was arrested for reporting about the strikes. A news report from early January suggests the numbers are higher, stating the police had arrested at least 44 people and were identifying another 159 suspects. The police have not provided a full list of all those arrested and where they are being held.

    Based on interviews with rights groups, lawyers, and workers, and police records, Human Rights Watch found the circumstances of many of the arrests following the Ashulia strikes point to politically motivated abuse of police powers to retaliate against labour organisers rather than credible allegations of crimes.

    Some of the police abuse tactics in the aftermath of the Ashulia strikes mirror those previously used by authorities in other related and unrelated human rights matters. These include:
    • Arrests based on vague or repealed offences from the draconian Special Powers Act, 1974;
    • The use of criminal complaints against large numbers of ‘unknown’ people allowing the police to threaten virtually anyone with arrest, to repeatedly re-arrest detainees even though they are not the named accused in the cases, and to thwart bail;
    • The misuse of powers of ‘arrest without warrant’ in violation of Bangladesh High Court directives, effectively making pretrial detention itself a form of punishment;
    • Violations of procedural safeguards aimed at counteracting forced confessions through torture, or cruel, inhuman, and other degrading treatment;
    • Threats by police to kill two detainees and claim they were killed in ‘crossfire’ in a shootout with police, and a death threat to an official from the Bangladesh Independent Garments Union Federation;
    • Harassment and intimidation of labour activists and workers in the name of ‘investigations’;
    • The arrest of a journalist under the vague section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act, 2015.

    The Bangladesh authorities should stop pressing these criminal cases and hold any police officers who used forced disappearances, torture, death threats, and other abusive police practices after the Ashulia strikes accountable, Human Rights Watch said.

    According to a news report, the National Revenue Board has also written to banks requesting all account-related information dating from July 1, 2009 for six union leaders and some of their spouses.

    ‘The Bangladeshi authorities seem determined to intimidate labour leaders and workers with the constant threat of arbitrary arrests to fill up the “unknown” tally of alleged troublemakers,’ Robertson said. A familiar pattern of criminal cases being used against rights activists is unfolding after the Ashulia strikes.’

    Based on information from workers, local labour rights groups, and newspaper reports, some Ashulia factories have also retaliated against an estimated 1,500 workers by indiscriminately firing or suspending them. Donors and brands sourcing from Bangladesh have the responsibility to respect and protect workers’ rights, Human Rights Watch said.

    They should call for an end to all harassment of labour leaders, workers, and journalists, including by ending the false criminal cases. Brands sourcing from Bangladesh should make binding agreements with local and global unions to protect freedom of association, modelled on the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, an enforceable agreement between workers and brands with a dispute resolution mechanism.

    Voluntary commitments in brands’ codes of conduct are ineffective to counter factory retaliation against unions. In the interim, brands should ensure their suppliers develop corrective action plans with worker representatives, including the option of reinstating fired workers and negotiating collective bargaining agreements to resolve wage disputes.

    The Bangladesh garment industry employs about four million workers and generates exports worth about US$25 billion. But the country’s dismal labour rights record is marked by persistent abuses including a lack of periodic wage reviews, wage theft, management thwarting unionisation in factories, and poor fire and building safety.

    The 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse, which killed more than 1,100 workers and injured another 2,000, forced the Bangladesh government, global brands, and factories to take steps to address fire and building safety, leading to some improvements.

    In 2016, the Fair Labour Association found that for the factories it assessed in Bangladesh, the purchasing power of average compensation fell below the World Bank poverty line compared with other big apparel producers like China and Vietnam, where average compensation is 2.5 times the poverty line.

    One union federation leader said that ‘participation committees’ – employer-worker committees under the Bangladesh Labour Act – had begun to subtly replace factory unions. A few workers from various Ashulia factories said their factory managers did not allow ‘unions’ but allowed workers to vote for representatives to these committees. The Solidarity Centre told Human Rights Watch that participation committees either exist only on paper or are dominated by employers and do not represent worker interests.

    A union office holder from a factory said: ‘Our factory union got the registration three months ago. ‘When the owner became aware of this, he terminated 74 workers including the union president … Now I got dismissed along with 150 others, though I had no role in the recent protest.’
    In another case, workers had attempted to form a union in their factory three times, only to face factory retaliation.


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  3. Tuesday 4th July 2017

    posted by Morning Star in World

    BANGLADESHI writer and labour rights campaigner Farhad Mazhar was kidnapped early yesterday in the capital Dhaka, reports Siam Sarower Jamil.

    Dhaka Metropolitan Police deputy commissioner Biplob Kumar Sarker said that Mr Mazhar’s wife, Farida Akhtar, reported his abduction in the Mohammadpur district at 6.30am.

    He told the Morning Star’s correspondent that Mr Mazhar had rung his wife and said: “Save me, they have kidnapped me. They will kill me.” His mobile phone had been switched off since then.

    Later the kidnappers called to demand a a 3.5 million taka (£33,400) ransom.

    Newspaper columnist Mr Mazhar is the founder and managing director of Policy Research for Development Alternatives (Ubinig). The non-governmental organisation provides education on the environment, trade, family planning and workplace rights, especially to women in the clothing industry.


  4. Wednesday 5th July 2017

    posted by Morning Star in World

    by Siam Sarower Jamil in Dhaka

    BANGLADESHI Marxist writer Farhad Mazhar was rescued from kidnappers in the early hours of yesterday — soon after further deaths among the sweatshop workers he campaigns for.

    The veteran labour rights activist was freed in a midnight raid by the police’s elite anti-terrorist Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) from a location in the western border district of Jessore.

    An earlier raid in the southern city of Khulna proved fruitless.

    Dhaka Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Masudur Rahman confirmed the details to the Morning Star.

    He said Mr Mazhar had been taken to the Detective Branch office in the capital Dhaka where he was likely to be questioned on his ordeal.

    His wife Farida Akhter embraced him on his return but expressed concern for his wellbeing.

    “I don’t think he has taken his medicine on time,” she said. “I am very upset seeing him in this condition. I have never seen him like this before.”

    Mr Mazhar, a newspaper columnist and founder of Policy Research Development Alternatives (Ubinig) was abducted near the capital on Monday morning. His captors demanded a 3.5 million tak (£33,400) ransom.

    Meanwhile, local police chief Aminul Islam said 10 people died and 50 were injured when a boiler exploded at the Mutifabs garment factory in Kashimpur, near Dhaka.

    Mr Islam said the search for more victims was continuing. Relatives said about six people remained missing.

    Multifabs says it makes 140,000 items of knitwear a day for export.

    Bangladesh’s rag trade is notorious for neglecting workers’ safety, as evidenced by the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse that killed 1,135 people.


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