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Plea for justice for slain Bangladeshi labor leader

Despite death sentence for missing suspect, victim's family believes the main perpetrators have not been investigated

Plea for justice for slain Bangladeshi labor leader

Bangladeshi garment workers take to the streets in Dhaka to demand a wage rise in May 2016. Activists are demanding a proper investigation of the murder of a prominent industry labor leader in 2012. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com) 

Rock Ronald Rozario, Dhaka
Bangladesh

April 9, 2018

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Former co-workers and relatives of a murdered Bangladeshi trade union leader have called for the main perpetrators to be brought to justice.

They were speaking after a district court in Tangail, central Bangladesh, on April 8 sentenced Mustafizur Rahman, 23, to death in absentia for murdering Aminul Islam, 39, an organizer with the Bangladesh Workers Solidarity Center (BWSC), a labor group working for rights in the textile and other industries.

Despite the death sentence, Islam's family and friends believe those who ordered the killing have not been investigated.

Kalpona Akter, Islam's colleague at BWSC and vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, said Islam's family and colleagues rejected the court sentence.

"This is injustice to Aminul. Without finding and bringing to prosecution those who were behind Rahman, the verdict is unacceptable to his family and colleagues. We are rejecting this verdict. We will go to a higher court, we will keep fighting and we will bring justice for Aminul Islam," Akter said.

A member of the victim's family, who asked not to be named, said the verdict was just for show.

"Aminul's murder got national and international publicity, so the government wanted to show justice was delivered. But the process tactfully excluded the main perpetrators from the probe, and it means they wield massive financial and political powers to influence the justice system," the person said.    

Islam, a vocal unionist for workers' rights, was based in the Savar-Ashulia industrial hub on the outskirts of Dhaka. His fearless activities to win wage increases and better working conditions in garment factories made him an enemy of factory owners.

On April 4, 2012, Rahman called Islam on the phone and then both disappeared. Three days later, Islam's mutilated body was found beside a highway in Tangail district, about 100 kilometers from where he was last seen.

A voluntary organization buried him in a local graveyard with the help of police after an autopsy. Islam's family later identified him from police photographs and buried him in Savar. 

Mahbubul Haq, then Tangail's police chief, told media that Islam's body had signs of brutal torture.

"He was murdered. His legs had severe torture marks including a hole made by a sharp object. All his toes were broken," Haq said.

Rahman was never seen after the murder, while his family never spoke about or reacted to his alleged involvement in the killing. Police believe Rahman might be hiding in neighboring India.

Islam's murder came six months before the Tazreen textile factory fire in which 112 died and a year before the deadly collapse of Rana Plaza that killed 1,134 workers and injured more than 2,000.

The murder, fire and collapse sparked an unprecedented global outcry over the notoriously poor working conditions in Bangladesh's US$25 billion textile industry, which supplies clothes for leading international brands while exploiting cheap labor. The country's four million textile workers, mostly women, earn as little as US$68 a month.

Five international trade groups — the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO), Maquila Solidarity Network, Worker Rights Consortium, International Labor Rights Forum and the Clean Clothes Campaign — have written to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina calling for a proper probe into the murder.

In 2013, following complaints from the AFL-CIO, the largest trade union in the United States and the parent body of BWSC, the U.S. government suspended the generalized system of preferences, a special trade privilege for low-income countries, for Bangladesh. 

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