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Call to drop cases against workers in deadly Bangladesh protest

Activists say sponsor, financers and police should face strict legal action for killings at power plant

Call to drop cases against workers in deadly Bangladesh protest

Activists protest in Dhaka over the killing of five SS Power Plant workers by police in Banshkhali, Chittagong, on April 17. (Photo: Piyas Biswas)

Several NGOs and human rights organizations have called for the immediate withdrawal of cases filed against Bangladeshi workers over a protest that led to police shooting dead five people.

Workers at the S. Alam-owned SS Power Plant in Banshkhali in Chittagong district were holding a demonstration on April 17 over working conditions and overdue salaries when police opened fire on them, killing five and injuring at least 30.

Police and S. Alam Group have filed two cases against the protesters accusing them of attacking police officers and setting fire to vehicles.

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The Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt, NGO Forum on ADB, Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development, Netherlands-based Re-course and Urgewald held a virtual press conference on April 19.

The groups called for strict legal measures against the sponsor and financers of the under-construction power plant and the police for being responsible for killing five workers.

At the press conference, Abdul Gani, a welder at the plant, gave a first-hand account of the incident.

As we don’t have any trade unions, we demanded an eight-hour day in the month of Ramadan

“A syndicate takes 5,000 taka (US$59) in advance for the worker’s job, 2,000 taka for clothing and 10 percent of the monthly salary of each worker. Before the lockdown, we worked for 12 hours without any overtime. The salary was 18,000 taka for two shifts. After lockdown the work hours came down to 10 hours, but no overtime," he said.

“As we don’t have any trade unions, we demanded an eight-hour day in the month of Ramadan, a one-hour break on Fridays for Jumma prayers and an overtime payment. We also demanded advanced salary during Eid.” 

Ryayan Hasan from NGO Forum on ADB termed the killings an absolute violation of human and constitutional rights.

“We demand that all financers of the project including the Bank of China and China Exim are held accountable for their failure to safeguard the workers,” he said.

Environmentalist and rights activist Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, demanded the government scrap the power plant deal.

“The owner has to be held responsible for the behavior of the contractors and subcontractors. This power plant doesn’t have the endorsement of the local people," she said.

“This is not the first time killings have happened in Banshkhali. If the first incident in 2016 had been investigated by a neutral judicial body, a similar incident would not have happened again.” 

Asian Peoples' Movement on Debt and Development president Lidy Nacpil condemned the heinous act.

“The coal plants are doing great harm to our climate. Now the coal plant owners are not even doing justice to their workers. The owner and financers of the plant should be held accountable for their actions,” Nacpil said.

The power plant, which is 70 percent owned by S. Alam Group, does not meet environmental impact standards and was built without public consultation. The 1200-megawatt coal powered plant, also 30 percent owned by Chinese engineering giant SEPCOIII, has been at the center of other protests in recent years.

The police have no right to shoot and kill people. It is an act against human rights

No government official agreed to speak about the allegations at the press conference.

“It is not our intention to harass anyone with a false case. The case is being investigated and action will be taken accordingly,” Shafiul Kabir, officer-in-charge of Banshkhali police station, told UCA News.

Father Anthony Sen, secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of Dinajpur Diocese, said that "the shooting of people like this is a symptom of dictatorship."

He added" "The police have no right to shoot and kill people. It is an act against human rights. Our society cannot accept this. As far as I understand from monitoring this incident, the human and fundamental rights of these workers have been completely deprived. The government should have acted on behalf of the workers.”

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