Bangladesh military tilts at windmills

E-Bangladesh

E-Bangladesh

E-Bangladesh is a News/Headlines service and a group blog aimed at bringing the news and analysis from Bangladesh to its readers.

[Update: Sunday, February 3.]

— Mehedi Hasan has been released, a WRC spokesperson confirmed:

… Mehedi Hasan was released Sunday afternoon, Dhaka time. We have confirmed it directly with Mehedi himself. We also understand that the pending charges against him have been dropped, this is what the police have told Mehedi’s lawyer. Documents confirming this have not yet been received, however. We hope to know more soon about the government’s official position on the case and their intentions going forward.

Mehedi Hasan

[Mashuqur Rahman, USA.]

The newspapers in Bangladesh fed us the party line. They declared that a “foreign body” had been provoking labor unrest in Bangladesh’s garment industry. Never mind that rising food prices and unpaid back wages have driven those who already live on the edge over the edge. The military government, faced with the fruits of its incompetence, has found the convenient foreign bogey man. The Daily Star tells us about this foreign hand:

Law enforcement agencies have confirmed that a foreign organisation and leaders of a section of garment workers were involved in provoking the recent unrest in garment factories in the city’s Mirpur area.

After investigation, an intelligence agency arrested Mehedi Hasan, Bangladesh representative of the Washington-based Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), at the Zia International Airport prior to his departure for Bangkok on January 24.

Court sources said Mehedi reportedly confessed to interrogators that he used to collect information about workers’ problems and send it by email to the WRC headquarters in Washington DC in the USA. He was also learnt to have disclosed that he incited garment workers to press for their demands and held several secret meetings with the leaders of a section of garment workers.

The Bangladesh military has arrested Mehedi Hasan, a man who works for Workers Rights Consortium (WRC). The job of WRC is to collect information about worker’s problems and report it to its affiliate schools. You see, WRC represents 178 American colleges and universities (including my alma mater, Vassar College) who buy garments from brands with factories in countries like Bangladesh. WRC defends the rights of garment workers against abuse. Its reports hold the garment factories’ feet to the fire. WRC’s affiliated colleges and universities use these reports to pressure garments companies to protect workers’ rights.

In short, the Bangladesh military has arrested a man and have accused him of doing his job. The Bangladesh military has discovered that a “foreign body” is working to improve the working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry. So they have put a stop to it.

Bangladesh generates much needed income from the garments business. According to the Associated Press, the garments industry brings in more than $10 billion a year from exports to mainly the United States and Europe. Arresting a worker who represents WRC for doing his job can only raise concerns amongst American buyers of Bangladeshi garments. There are reports already in the American media of such concerns:

A labor rights investigator was arrested by the Bangladeshi government, prompting U.S. companies to lobby for his release.

Mehedi Hasan, an employee of the Washington-based Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), was arrested Thursday, according to the organization. The WRC said yesterday that he was arrested in retaliation for his efforts to protect the rights of workers in factories that sell U.S. brands.

Gap Inc. spokeswoman Melissa Swanson said the company is “looking into this situation, working with appropriate authorities and local organizations, and we are hopeful for a prompt and just resolution,” she said.

Kazi Shamsul Alam, commerce counselor at the Bangladeshi Embassy, said yesterday that he received calls from the WRC, Nike and Gap expressing concern, but did not know the charges on which Mr. Hasan was being held.

The report further adds that Mehedi Hasan had been under surveillance by Bangladesh’ military intelligence and one of his colleagues was also harassed at the airport:

WRC Executive Director Scott Nova said, “There have been thousands of political arrests [in Bangladesh] and numerous reports of physical mistreatment of prisoners. We just hope that the attention the arrest has got will provide Mr. Hasan with a level of protection.”

Mr. Hasan’s role was to scrutinize factories and their treatment of workers in Dhaka, ensuring that clothing was not produced under sweatshop conditions. WRC monitors conditions for 178 universities and colleges that lend their brands to Nike and Gap.

The WRC said yesterday that another employee was detained at the airport and subjected to “aggressive interrogation” earlier this month, during which his interrogators made clear that both he and Mr. Hasan were under surveillance by the security forces.

Tonight Human Rights Watch issued a press release citing Mehedi Hasan’s arrest and calling on the Bangladesh military to stop harassing labor rights activists. According to the press release:

“The interim government is abusing its emergency powers to target individuals who are trying to protect workers’ rights in Bangladesh’s most important export industry,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This should set off alarm bells among donors and governments who don’t seem to understand or care how the authorities are using the state of emergency to systematically suppress basic rights.”

UK-based Labour Behind The Label has also called for his immediate and unconditional release.

In one year of emergency rule the Bangladesh military has presided over spiraling food prices, has tortured and killed its own citizens, has jailed nearly half a million people, has jailed students and professors, has created a climate of fear in the business community, and has now seen labor unrest in a key sector of the economy. Its fix to almost all problems has been to pull out the gun.

Today that gun points at Mehedi Hasan. However, behind him stand the millions in Bangladesh and around the world who say no to exploitation of workers, who believe in the right to a living wage, and who believe in humane working conditions. Behind him stand the foreign apparel brands that purchase Bangladeshi garments, the colleges and universities that buy those brands, and the organizations that ensure that human beings are not being treated inhumanely along the way. It seems to me that the Bangladesh military would serve Bangladesh, its people, and its economy best by putting down the gun.


Mashuqur Rahman [http://www.docstrangelove.com] is one of the highest read Bangladeshi-American bloggers. Critically acclaimed for his incisive analysis on Bangladesh, US foreign policy and dedicated advocacy of human rights.

[Read posts by Mashuqur Rahman]

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E-Bangladesh is a News/Headlines service and a group blog aimed at bringing the news and analysis from Bangladesh to its readers.


204 Responses to “Bangladesh military tilts at windmills”

  1. zafa

    We stand in solidarity with Mehdi Hasan and other labor rights activists.

    The arrogance of this dim witted junta is going to hurt the Bd garments industry big time.
    The arrest of Hasan and confiscation of his computer (that documented his findings on labor condition in the industry) will only make the industry look worse than they are. Not all the factories are abusive towards their employees. I have personally visited garments factory that is in compliance. But those that are not in compliance are obviously robbing the workers off their rights, and initiatives should be taken to impose the compliance. It will only strengthen the relationship with the foreign buyers.

    It was big mistake to try to hinder the monitoring of the garments industries by the watchdogs who are working for the clients themselves. The special force better release Mehdi Hasan soon and apologize to cut the losses, so it does NOT looks as though Bd govt is trying to cover up for those factory owners that employ workers under sweatshop conditions.

    The U.S. brands will be the first ones to discontinue the million dollars contract with Bd companies, because by the law of this country, the brands cannot import apparel from countries where labor rights are violated. The suspension of trade union activities since Jan 2007 under the Emergency Rules, itself constitutes a serious violation of these rights. The recent unrest in the Mirpur garment factory area has been direct result of the workers

  2. Sushil Khedao

    I am wondering if the Army understands the implications of such bullying?

  3. Akash

    The only thing the Army – any army – knows is bullying, because they have the gun. Both literal and proverbial. That’s the worst form of social and civic relationship. And that is what the sushils have been agog about!

  4. Muhamad

    Sushil Khedao, the army is there for action (the army being composed of action men), don’t bother bringing “implications” into the equation here. Action is the operative word. Look at all action men stuff they have been doing.

  5. Imran

    What does Anwar Chowdhury and the German Ambassador, the big foreign mouths of this autocratic government have to say about such a reprehensible act?

    Guess its Ok with them when their “installed” stooges are doing it?

  6. Towhidul Islam

    The doubt that the present Bangladesh government is devoid of such notion as “biting the hand that feeds itself.” I am skeptical about all the admonishments posted here. Time will reveal the implications, if any.

  7. Democrat

    There should immediately be elections in Bangladesh.

    Visit by the British Foreign Minister to Bangladesh run by an unelected government sends wrong messages to the military backed government.

    Britain is hurting Bangladesh’s march towards restoration of democracy as soon as possible.

    The minister has said nothing about human rights violation and the illegal detention of Hasina and Khaleda.

    His visit is deplorable. The Brits are the biggest threat to restoration of democracy in Bangladesh.

  8. democracia

    A fascist government is one which is terminally ill with an incurable cancer. In a fascist society this system of mutual balance has completely and utterly collapsed to the point where government is not functioning as the representative of the people, but the security guard for the corporate interests.

  9. patriot sam

    I hate every one of them who cause a harm to Bangladesh. i also want to kill that agent mehedi hasan.

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