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Pressure mounts on Bangladeshi authorities to solve murder of labour activist

September 5, 2012

The tortured body of Bangladeshi trade union organizer Aminul Islam was found by the side of the road on April 5 of this year, the tragic culmination of a history of attacks by Bangladeshi security forces on Aminul and the organizations in which he was involved.

In 2010, Aminul was detained and beaten by police along with two other leaders of the Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity (BCWS). The organization, which provides support to workers in Bangladesh's apparel industry, was stripped of its legal status. Its leaders were subjected to numerous trumped-up charges for supposedly causing unrest during the 2010 campaign by garment workers for a decent minimum wage.

During Aminul's previous arrest, police threatened to kill him and his wife. Aminul was also an organizer with the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF).

Since his murder, pressure has been mounting on the Bangladeshi government to find and prosecute his murderers, including appeals from Bangladeshi trade unions and industry associations, eleven international industry associations, ambassadors of nine European countries, the US ambassador, members of the US Congress, the Canadian High Commission, the International Trade Union Confederation, and numerous trade union, human rights and non-governmental organizations.

In May, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out about Aminul's murder during a visit to Dhaka, stating, "There needed to be an independent investigation into the murder of Mr. Islam, because certainly his family and his colleagues deserve answers about what happened to him."

A meeting in Dhaka on July 18th involving 19 of the country's biggest international apparel buyers, including Wal-Mart, Gap and H&M, resulted in a joint letter from the buyers to the Prime Minister urging action on the case.

Facing this unprecedented level of attention, the government appears to be pushing back. Recently, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina questioned Aminul's role as a labour organizer, suggesting to international media that no one had ever heard of him prior to his death - despite international campaigns, in which MSN participated, during his earlier detention by security forces.

Those security forces are suspected of involvement in the murder. Multiple sources told the Bangladesh New Age newspaper that Mostafiz Rahman, the person who Aminul set out to meet the night of his death, had been a paid source for the National Security Intelligence agency and the Industrial Police. In addition, New Age reports that cell phone records show Mostafiz communicated with intelligence agencies prior to and just after Aminul's disappearance. Mostafiz has since disappeared.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that a local police investigation has so far failed to produce any arrests. The family of Aminul Islam, backed by a large group of international labour and human rights advocates, including MSN, are calling for the case to be transferred to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Bangladesh National Police, which has greater resources to investigate the murder.

Whether Aminul's murder is the beginning of a new wave of violence against labour rights advocates or an event that turns the tide against persecution of Bangladesh activists remains to be seen.

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