Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina,
Hon. Prime Minister
Prime Minister’s Office
Old Sangsad Bhaban
Tejgaon, Dhaka-1215
The People’s Republic of Bangladesh

27th August 2010

Madam,

SAHR appeals to Release the Garment Leaders

Ms. Kalpona Akter and Mr. Babul Ahkter

South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) would like to urge the Government for a proper investigation to the cases filed on the charges that Ms. Kalpona Akter and Mr. Babul Ahkter provoked the street protests that occurred in early August,2010.
On 14 August Ms. Kalpona Akter and Mr. Babul Ahkter, the leaders of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), were arrested at 2:00 am by twenty armed policemen. BCWS is a prominent organisation working on worker rights. It conducts worker rights training and legal and public advocacy to improve labour practices. Kalpona Akter, the Executive Director, is a former child labourer herself. Babul Ahkter is the Executive Director of the Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers Federation. The leaders were arrested on unsubstantiated charges of fomenting worker unrest. At 20 cents per hour, Bangladesh has by far the lowest wages of any major apparel producing country. Also, more arrest warrants have been issued against hundreds of workers and several labour rights leaders in the recent past.
On 29 July the Government announced the new minimum wage proposal for the garment sector. The minimum wage proposal of 3000 Taka, remains however insufficient to meet the basic needs of workers, who continued their protests on the streets. After that the workers demonstrated at various places including Dhaka, Narayanganj and Chittagong against the new wage structure. The government and the readymade garment factory owners, however, have refused to accede to the workers’ demand for resetting the minimum wage at Tk 5,000.
Garment labor advocates have charged that individual protesters were tortured to give false evidence.  It seems unlikely that only these three labor leaders were responsible for what seems to have been wide-spread protests that broke into violent clashes between workers and the police.
On June 3, the NGO Affairs Bureau canceled BCWS’ NGO registration and ordered that its property be confiscated and its bank accounts frozen.
It was reported in different news sources that 6 more cases have been filed against Kalpona Akter and the police has been threatening their family members with beatings and harassing colleagues. We are seriously worried about the physical safety of the BCWS leaders as well as that of their families and colleagues.
SAHR would urge that an independent Judicial Investigation be carried out into the violation of the worker rights issue, which is guaranteed in the Constitution, and to which Bangladesh is further committed through ratification of international treaties such as the ICPCR.
On behalf of South Asians for Human Rights,
Mrs. Shiranthi Jayatilaka
Executive Director