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Factory investigator released in Bangladesh

February 5, 2008

Update: Mehedi Hasan was released by the Bangladesh security forces on Sunday, February 3, 2008 after being held for ten days in detention. Police have told Hasan’s lawyer that all charges against him have been dropped, although the WRC is awaiting written confirmation.

According to the WRC, pressure from foreign governments, buyers, and NGOs both in Bangladesh and around the world secured Mr. Hasan’s release.

There are other labor rights advocates and worker leaders in Bangladesh who have been arrested and/or are facing unfair charges similar to those to which Mr. Hasan was to be subjected. Police and judicial procedures under the state of emergency raise grave doubts about whether any of these cases will be adjudicated justly. There is also the ongoing problem of the government’s broader effort to repress labor rights advocacy and the exercise of associational rights by Bangladeshi workers.

The WRC has expressed its hope that the energy mobilized on Mr. Hasan’s behalf, which was so effective in securing his release, can be maintained and directed toward the broader goal of protecting labor rights advocates and worker representatives throughout Bangladesh.

Hasan portrait

On January 24 Mehedi Hasan, a field investigator for the Washington D.C.-based Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), was arrested by the Bangladesh security forces. Since then, Mr. Hasan has been held virtually incommunicado, first at the National Security Intelligence office in Gulshan and now at the Pallabi Police Station, in the Pallabi area of Dhaka. Authorities have refused to let his family communicate meaningfully with him.

He has not been allowed to meet and discuss his case with his lawyer. And he has been prevented from communicating in any way with his employer, the WRC. As a result of this lack of contact, there is no credible information about whether or not he has been physically mistreated while in custody.

On Wednesday, January 30, a hearing before the Magistrate Court was held at which it was hoped Mehedi’s release would be announced. Instead, the Court remanded him for an additional three days of interrogation, with further detention possible beyond this point. He is being held as a suspect in a case relating to worker demonstrations and unrest which occurred in Dhaka during January 2008. Mehedi was not involved in any way in this unrest.

The case was filed under the Emergency Powers Rules (EMR) implemented by the military-backed “caretaker government” in January 2007. They contain sweeping prohibitions on civil liberties and due process rights that ban meetings, assemblies and demonstrations and prohibit trade union activity. WRC staff met with the Bangladeshi Ambassador to the United States on January 31 to express its concerns. The Ambassador was unable to provide any new information concerning the government’s intentions.