The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), a global workers' rights body, called for an immediate release of seven trade union leaders of the Garment Workers Trade Union Centre (GWTUC) in Bangladesh from prison.
In a statement issued on Saturday, the CCC said the union leaders were detained last week on the basis of false charges filed by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the garment makers' platform.
The CCC called for the release of the detainees including Joly Talukdar, KM Mintu, Monjur Moin, Jalal Howladar, Lutfar Rahman and Md Shahjahan, all leaders of the GWTUC.
The rights group also demanded release of Sazedur Rahman Shameem, a leader of Communist Party of Bangladesh, who was allegedly detained on April 1 after attending the court to request an extension of their bail.
Of the GWTUC leaders, only Montu Ghosh was granted bail. On April 5, the High Court agreed to grant an interim bail to the seven, but to date all remain in custody at Dhaka Central Jail, the CCC statement said.
The BGMEA filed the complaint following a protest by the workers of the Ashiana garments factory. The protest took place outside the BGMEA headquarters on January 31.
The workers claimed that they initially went to the building, along with a number of GWTUC leaders, after receiving a request to join a meeting with the owner of Ashiana garments. The meeting was for negotiating the payment of severance and unpaid wages, following the sudden and indefinite closure of the factory.
According to the testimonies taken from those who were present that day, around 450 workers arrived at the proposed time. But the BGMEA security informed them that no such meeting was scheduled.
As they were prevented from entering the building, they decided to protest peacefully outside, according to the CCC statement.
The workers said the BGMEA officials came out of the building and attempted to stop the protest by confiscating banners and microphones.
Soon afterwards, the workers said a group of men armed with rods and sticks started attacking them. At least 20 workers were injured and required hospital treatment, the CCC statement added.
According to the GWTUC, workers attempted to file a criminal complaint against the attackers at a local police station, but police refused to take their statements.
Immediately after the attack, the BGMEA filed a criminal complaint against 12 named persons -- consisting majority of the GWTUC leadership -- and 150 unnamed workers, accusing all of attempted murder and vandalism.
On February 4, two workers were arrested; they remain imprisoned.
Of the 12 leaders charged, only three were actually present at the Ashiana protest; Joly Talukdar, GWTUC general secretary, and Montu Gosh, its president, were not even in Dhaka at the time of the alleged events, the statement added.
The labour rights activists believe that the arrests were politically motivated and represent an attempt to silence the current campaign to increase the minimum wage for garment workers to Tk 16,000 (157 EUR) per month.
They also noted that GWTUC has been one of the most vocal and active federations in this campaign.