Bangladesh: Hundreds of arbitrarily detained migrant workers must be released

The Bangladeshi authorities must immediately release at least 370 Bangladeshi migrant workers who were arbitrarily detained between July and September following their return to the country, said Amnesty International.

In the fourth of a series of mass arrests of migrant workers for alleged criminal activity abroad, 32 people were detained in Dhaka on Sunday 28 September for "tarnishing the image of the country", due to their alleged imprisonment in Syria from where they had been deported. In this, as with three other cases, no credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing has been shown nor have any charges been brought.

These men and women are being arbitrarily detained in clear violation of Bangladesh’s human rights obligations
David Griffiths, Director of the Office of the Secretary General

The arbitrary detention of the workers violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bangladesh is a state party.

“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,” said David Griffiths, Director of the Office of the Secretary General.

“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 32 workers were initially jailed in Syria while trying to reach Italy and other European countries. They returned to Bangladesh on 13 September and were placed in quarantine for two weeks prior to their arrest, after the Syrian government commuted their jail terms.

Between July and September, Bangladeshi police have jailed at least 370 returning migrant workers 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 5 July 2020, 219 Bangladeshi workers who had returned from Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain since May were arrested and detained. According to the police application to a court in Dhaka, the returnees were in jails in those countries for committing “various offences”, which were not specified. The workers were deported to Bangladesh after their sentences were commuted. A police request to detain the 219 for as long as an investigation continued to determine their offence was granted by the court.

This was followed on 21 July by the arrest of another 36 migrant workers who had returned from Qatar and, on 1 September, by the arrest of 81 migrant workers who had returned to the country from Vietnam and 2 others from Qatar, after being exploited by traffickers.

“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 David Griffiths.

Background

Article 9 of the ICCPR safeguards the right to liberty and security of person and explicitly provides that “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.”

An Urgent Action issued by Amnesty International on the case is available here.