Bangladesh accused of harassing garment worker activists

Garment workers gather in front of the head office of BGMEA, during a protest in Dhaka in this file photo. (Reuters)
Updated 17 February 2017
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Bangladesh accused of harassing garment worker activists

DHAKA: An international human rights group has accused Bangladesh authorities of harassing and intimidating garment worker leaders and rights activists, saying 34 of them have been arrested since December on charges it alleged were politically motivated.
Bangladesh has the world’s second-largest garment industry, which supplies many Western retailers and is vital to the developing country’s economy.
Workers from 20 factories stopped working and blocked roads during the protests Dec. 11-19 in an industrial zone near Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital. Factory owners rejected the demand and temporarily closed many factories, and police began making arrests. The protesters demanded a monthly minimum wage increase from 5,300 takas ($67) to 15,000 ($187) or 16,000 ($200).
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement Wednesday that the authorities should respond sensibly.
“Targeting labor 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 HRW. “Global garment brands sourcing from Bangladesh and aid donors should press the government to stop persecuting workers and labor rights activists.”
A rights activist told The Associated Press on Thursday that many have faced “systematic harassment” and went into hiding after the chaos at Ashulia area in December.
“We work for the workers but we are facing crackdown, I will call it crackdown. We are being intimidated,” Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, told the AP by phone from a jail gate where she went to meet two of her colleagues who got bail.
Akter said their offices at Ashulia were forcibly closed by police.
“This is unfortunate as we do not act against the industry, we work for the workers’ rights,” she said.
Government authorities could not be reached for comment immediately, but a business group leader disputed claims that 34 people have been arrested.
“So far I know nine people have been arrested because of their instigation that disrupted the sector,” Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told the AP late Thursday.
“More than 4 million people are involved in the industry, most of them love this sector as we all earn bread and butter from this, but only a few always attempt to destabilize such a vital sector in various way. Their common tactic is to create violence and disrupt production,” Rahman said. “Cannot we seek protection from the government? Cannot the government act in line with law of the country? Any one-sided claims that are harmful to the industry should not be taken for granted.”
HRW also urged global brands and donors attending an apparel summit in Bangladesh’s capital later this month to use the event to call on the government to stop all prosecution of union leaders and to defend workers’ freedom of association.
Factory owners earlier said that activists often created chaos in the industry for their personal gains and acted against the country’s interest. The government says it will not tolerate any chaos in the industry but will continue to work to improve workplace safety and workers’ rights.
The factory owners also complain that global brands are not ready to pay higher wages and bargain hard, putting extreme pressure on the manufacturers to keep prices cheaper. The local industry is second to China’s in size, with India and Vietnam also major competitors.


Duterte foes cry foul as Philippine police push sedition charges

Updated 42 min 20 sec ago
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Duterte foes cry foul as Philippine police push sedition charges

  • Thirty-six opposition figures are accused of cyber libel and sedition
  • A series of online videos ahead of May’s mid-term elections alleged that Duterte and his family members were involved in the illegal drugs trade

MANILA: Opponents of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte expressed shock and outrage on Friday at police moves to charge dozens of them with sedition, calling it persecution aimed at stamping out scrutiny of his increasingly powerful rule.
Thirty-six opposition figures are accused of cyber libel and sedition for orchestrating a series of online videos ahead of May’s mid-term elections. The videos feature a hooded man alleging that Duterte and his family members were involved in the illegal drugs trade, which they deny.
The man, who had said he was a witness, later surrendered and appeared with police on television to say his claims were false and that he was cajoled into making the videos by opposition members. They included the vice president, lawyers, Catholic priests, a former attorney general, and incumbent and former lawmakers, the man said.
The justice department is looking into the complaint, which is the latest move against Duterte’s detractors who say the aim is to create a power monopoly for a president who already enjoys a legislative super-majority and a public approval rating of about 80 percent.
Duterte insists he is open to challenges but has shown no qualms about threatening high-profile critics, several of whom he said last month he would jail if they tried to impeach him.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte had no involvement in the police sedition complaint.
“We have nothing to do with this case, not at all, absolutely nothing,” he told news channel ANC. “Let the judicial process do its work.”
Antonio Trillanes, a former senator and Duterte’s strongest critic, described the complaint as “political persecution and harassment” intended to stifle democratic dissent.
A spokesman for Vice President Leni Robredo, who was not Duterte’s running mate and was elected separately, called the complaint “completely baseless.” Her party ally Senator Francis Pangilinan said it was part of a series of moves toward removing her from office.
Leila de Lima, an anti-Duterte senator detained on drugs charges, said it was “hogwash, pure hogwash,” and Samira Gutoc, a candidate in recent Senate elections, urged the police not to become partisan.
“I really am baffled,” Gutoc said of being accused of involvement.