Amnesty International has called for the Bangladesh authorities to immediately release at least 370 migrant workers, who were arbitrarily detained between July and September following their return to the country.
In a statement yesterday, it said in the fourth part of a series of mass arrests for alleged criminal activity abroad, 32 workers were detained in Dhaka on September 28 for "tarnishing the image of the country", due to their alleged imprisonment in Syria from where they had been deported.
The 32 workers were initially jailed in Syria while trying to reach Italy and other European countries. They returned to Bangladesh on September 13 and were placed in quarantine for two weeks prior to their arrest, after the Syrian government commuted their jail terms.
They were jailed under section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows for arrest on the basis of having "reasonable suspicion" that a person may have been involved in a criminal offence outside Bangladesh.
On July 5, 2020, 219 Bangladeshi workers, who had returned from Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, were arrested and detained.
According to the police application to a Dhaka court, the returnees were in jails in those countries for committing "various offences" and all of them were deported to Bangladesh after their sentences were commuted.
The court has granted a police request to detain the 219 for as long as an investigation continued to determine their offence.
On July 21, 36 migrants workers who returned from Qatar were arrested and on September 1, another 81 workers who returned from Vietnam and two who returned from Qatar were arrested, after being exploited by traffickers.
"The arbitrary detention of the workers violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a state party," said David Griffiths, director of the Office of the Amnesty International Secretary General.
"Not only have the Bangladeshi authorities failed to present any credible evidence of these workers' supposed crimes, they have failed to specify any criminal charges. These men and women are being arbitrarily detained in clear violation of Bangladesh's human rights obligations," he said.
The rights body said with many now held in detention for several months, there is no time for further delay. The Bangladeshi authorities must either bring charges for internationally recognised criminal offences or release them immediately.
"The Bangladeshi police have effectively been given court permission to keep these workers in detention for as long as they like. There is no telling how long an investigation into hundreds of cases involving multiple countries may take. To keep people imprisoned without charge for such an indeterminate length of time is completely unacceptable," said Griffiths.