South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) is deeply concerned about restraint of freedoms of association and assembly through the use of force and intimidation in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
In Bangladesh, the police have effectively crushed the readymade garment factory workers’ protest for increase of minimum wage. The issue commenced with workers in a factory in Ashulia, one of the centres of the country’s thriving ready-made garment sector did a walk out demanding a monthly minimum wage of 16,000 taka (£165; $203), in December 2016. It is currently 5,300 taka (£55; $67). The dispute worsened gradually and currently about 1500 workers are out of work due to closure of garment factories by Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). The police have also illegally or without a cause arrested a dozen trade unionists, activists and organisers with intimidating threats of ‘cross fire’ – a term used by the police to claim that an individual was killed during police gun fire with criminals.
The present unity government of Sri Lanka came into power committing to protect and promote human rights and good governance. Even though the country has experienced a comparatively larger opening of public space, there have been several occasions where protests and public demonstrations by university students, civil society representatives, as well as the contractual workers (recruited by manpower agencies) have been violently dispersed by the police on the basis of disturbing the public. Incidents include the arrest of 37 manpower workers of the Ceylon Electricity Board who were on ‘Sathyagraha’ (a peaceful protest) and the arrest of the convenor of the Inter University Students Federation for violating previous bail conditions, during the past three weeks. Further, in the North and East of Sri Lanka where there continues to be a heavy military presence these freedoms have been curtailed severely by disproportionate surveillance measures by intelligence officers. Also there have been instances where public protests and demonstrations were banned through court orders.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights
Dr. Nimalka Fernando