ARTICLE 19 condemns the shooting of unarmed construction workers at the Banshkhali Coal-fired Power Plant in Chittagong, Bangladesh on 17 April. Five construction workers died after police fired shots during a protest calling for better working conditions at the plant — a serious violation of human rights and the Constitution of Bangladesh’s provision for peaceful assembly.
Faruq Faisel, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh and South Asia, said, “ARTICLE 19 condemns such disproportionate use of force by state security forces to thwart the democratic right of these workers to voice their rightful demands”.
“Article 37 of the Bangladesh Constitution explicitly states that every citizen shall have the right to assemble and to participate in public meetings and processions peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of public order or public health. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure this constitutional right, but we are noticing the opposite trend”, he added.
This was not the first time that the Banshkhali Coal Power Plant, which is part of the S. Alam Group, has witnessed these levels of violence and abuse of its workers. In 2016, law enforcement agents killed many local people after they protested against land acquisition in connection with the project, fearing a negative impact on their lives.
Many of the workers revealed they were protesting against unpaid wages and better working conditions, including adequate break times for prayer; Eid bonuses in line with salary scales; and a stop to the practice of being informed about further cuts to their work verbally and in an unofficial capacity. Clashes broke out and, in addition to the deaths, many others were gravely injured by the live ammunition security services shot at the construction workers, and by their use of disproportionate force against them.
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues and makes the life of the working class and people paid on a daily basis more difficult, the continued violation of their rights constitutes a serious violation of the Bangladesh Labour Law and fundamental human rights. S. Alam Group’s failure to pay its workers especially at such difficult times and during the holy month of Ramadan is wholly unacceptable and deserves a full, independent, and transparent investigation. We demand the workers be paid and urge the state authorities to consider the human cost of the power plant and look into S. Alam Group’s lack of ethical operations and inability to comply with its legal obligations as an employer.
“The right to protest ensures civil liberties and the accountability of the government,” said Faruq Faisel said. “The government needs to look into the matter of increased police brutality and carry out a transparent investigation regarding the death of the five workers and the injuries suffered by several others.”
According to the Police Regulations, Bengal, 1943, police are allowed to use minimum force as a last resort for democratic assemblies that they deem to be a severe security concern. However, the purpose of using this force would be to break the assembly apart and under no circumstances should it be intended to kill anyone. However, with regards to this incident, the police did not follow the law and failed to use minimum restraint. Recent events suggest that police brutality is a big issue of concern in Bangladesh, especially against unarmed civilians exercising their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the government to take effective measures to ensure the right of assembly, to recognise the rights of citizens and to prevent law enforcement from interfering in the exercise of civil and political rights of the people.
ARTICLE 19 has been working in Bangladesh since 2008.
For more information contact Faruq Faisel, Regional Director, ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh and South Asia, [email protected], +88(0) 1730700267(Bangladesh)