ARTICLE 19 condemns firing on unarmed construction workers of the Banshkhali Coal-fired Power Plant. On 17 April, 5 construction workers died after police fired shots during a protest calling for better working conditions at the Banshkhali Coal-fired Power Plant of S. Alam Group in Chittagong, which is currently under construction — a serious violation of human rights and the provision in the Constitution of Bangladesh on peaceful assembly. This is not the first time that the Banshkhali Coal Power Plant site has witnessed such violence and abuse of the workers. In 2016 many local people were killed by law enforcement agents after they protested against land acquisition in connection with the project, fearing a negative impact on their lives.
In a statement issued to the media today, Faruq Faisel, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh and South Asia, an UK-based International Human Rights Organization said, “ARTICLE 19 condemns such disproportionate use of force by State security forces to thwart the democratic right of these workers to voice their rightful demands”.
“Article 37 of Bangladesh Constitution explicitly states that every citizen shall have the right to assemble and to participate in public meetings and processions peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of public order or public health. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure this constitutional right, but we are noticing the opposite trend”, he added.
Many of the workers revealed they were protesting against non-payment of wages, and better working conditions including adequate break times, including for prayer; Eid bonuses in line with salary scales; and a stop to the practice of being informed about further cuts to their work verbally but not in an official capacity. Clashes broke out and many others were gravely injured as security forces started shooting live ammunition at and using disproportionate force against the construction workers.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and makes the life of the working class and daily wage earners more difficult, workers not being paid their due wages constitutes a serious violation of the Bangladesh Labour Law and fundamental human rights. S. Alam Group has failed to pay their workers especially at such difficult times, amid the holy Ramadan month is wholly unacceptable and deserves a full, independent, and transparent investigation. We demand the workers be paid their dues and urge the State authorities to consider the human cost of this power plant and look into S. Alam Group’s lack of ethical operations and their inability to comply with their legal obligations as an employer.
According to the Police Regulations, Bengal, 1943, police are allowed to use minimum force as a last resort for democratic assemblies that they deem to be a severe security concern, but the purpose of using this force would be to break the assembly apart and under no circumstances should it be intended to kill anyone. However, as suggested by this incident, the police did not follow the law and failed to use minimum restraint. Recent events suggest that police brutality is a big issue of concern in Bangladesh, especially against unarmed civilians exercising their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
Faruq Faisel said, “The right to protest ensures civil liberties and accountability of the government. The government needs to look into the matter of increased police brutality and carry out a transparent investigation regarding the death of the 5 workers and the injuries suffered by several others”
ARTICLE 19 calls on the government to take effective measures to ensure the right of assembly to recognize the rights of citizens and to prevent law enforcement from interfering in the exercise of civil and political rights of the people.