It has happened not in an African or Asian country but in Greece, home of one of the oldest civilisations in Europe. It is reported that two men, including the owner of a farm in the village of Manolada, who shot 28 Bangladeshi strawberry pickers after they had asked to be reimbursed for the six months of unpaid labour, have been acquitted by a court in the southern city of Patras. Dozens were injured in the attack, including four seriously. Despite admitting shooting the workers, the two men—one of whom was also accused of human trafficking—were cleared by the court. The International Business Times terms it as an “unprecedented racist scandal.”
Migrant workers immediately protested the ruling in front of the court. One of the defending lawyers, Moisis Karabeyidis, said he feels “shame as a Greek” and may take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. “This decision is an outrage and a disgrace,” he said. “The court showed an appalling attitude toward the victims.”
Politicians and union groups have also criticised the decision. Vassiliki Katrivanou, an MP for the radical-left Syriza party, said the ruling sends a message that migrant workers “can die like a dog in the orchard.” Greece's biggest labour union said the decision was “against the public sense of justice and fairness.” A spokesperson of the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) said: “We express our dissatisfaction with the acquittal of a businessman and his associates who are responsible for the mistreatment of 200 workers, mostly from Bangladesh, at the site, who live in squalid conditions and without working rights and who had been left unpaid.” “It leaves room for new victims by closing eyes to the brutal, inhuman and racist character of the exploitation suffered by workers on the land,” she added.
Though there was no fatality, the incident, however, reminds us of the shooting of striking workers who demanded an eight-hour working day at Haymarket Square in Chicago on May 4, 1886. That happened in the late 19th century and resulted in the observation of the International May Day. How could a similar incident occur in the 21st century?
Imagine what would have been the reaction in Europe and America had this incident occurred in Bangladesh. Europeans are very vocal in protesting against injustices done to workers in other countries but some of them practice racist policies at home.
The government of Bangladesh should act immediately and decisively to stand by the victims of violence and injustice and appeal against the verdict that deserves to be condemned and reversed.
The writer is a former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.