Press Release: Protest Held at Bangladesh High Commission on 15th Phulbari Day

Protest outside of Bangladesh High Commission in London on 26 August 2021. Photocredit: Fe Haslam

41 Climate Justice Organisations Called on the Bangladesh Government to Implement Phulbari Verdict, Take Legal Actions Against GCM Resources, and End Coal Power.

Some XR Youth Solidarity activists make placards outside the Bangladesh High Commission for Phulbari Solidarity. Photo credit: London Mining Network

On Thursday 26 August, a large number of transnational anti-mining and climate justice campaigners held a 2-hour long protest outside the Bangladesh High Commission in London, where they honoured the victims of the Phulbari Massacre, where three young people were killed and hundreds injured protesting British financed coal mine. From the Remembrance rally, marking the 15th anniversary of the Phulbari Day, 41 climate justice organisations called on the High Commissioner to push for the delisting of GCM Resources from the London Stock Exchange and the banning of new coal projects in Bangladesh.  Despite advance email request for an appointment with the High Commissioner, the High Commissioner refused to meet the London Mining Network, Phulbari Solidarity Group and Extinction Rebellion Internationalist Network activists.

The rally in London was organised by the Phulbari Solidarity Group and London Mining Network, with support from Foil Vedanta, Fossil Free London, Bibortan, Extinction Rebellion Internationalist Solidarity Network, Global Justice Bloc, Extinction Rebellion Youth Solidarity,  and Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike.

Activists from XR Youth UK, Global Justice Bloc, and Fossil Free London joined the Phulbari Solidarity Group and London Mining Network, and occupied the entrance of the Bangladesh High Commission for two hours from 10:30AM to 12:35PM. The rally marked the 15th anniversary of the Phulbari Massacre. The gathered activists laid sunflowers, candles, and held banners outside the High Commission, accompanied by mournful cello music by XR Youth Solidarity artist, Clary. The memorandum to Bangladesh High Commissioner was shared and read out loudly by seven activists, led by Rumana Hashem, the coordinator of the Phulbari Solidarity Group and eyewitness to the 2006 massacre. A three minute silence was held in memory of  Al Amin, Mohammad Saleqin and Tarikul Islam. These three, aged 11,13 and 18 respectively were killed on 26 August 2006 when a paramilitary force opened fire during a  nonviolent demonstration of an estimated 80,000 people against the eviction of 130,000 people in Phulbari  to make way for a 572-million ton open cast coal mine. More than 200 other demonstrators were injured.

A handpainted balck banner with sunflowers and candles on either side laid on the ground outside the Bangladesh High Commission by PSGBD in memory of Al Amin, Salekin and Tariqul, who were killed in 2006. Photocredit: Saul Jones.

Extinction Rebellion Youth Solidarity activists held a placard making session outside the High Commission building, stressing the link between young activists and climate justice struggles. A delegation of 5 organisers of the rally requested to meet with MS Saida Muna Tasneem, the High Commissioner for Bangladesh, in order to deliver a memorandum signed by 41 climate justice organisations. This memorandum demand that the High Commissioner put pressure on the London Stock Exchange to de-list GCM Resources, and stress the importance of implementing the Phulbari Verdict, which would ban new coal projects in Bangladesh, to the Bangladeshi Prime Minister. The delegation was denied access to the building as the High Commissioner refused to meet.

First Officer to the High Commissioner receives the memorandum from the protesters. Photocredit: Saul Jones

While activists were disappointed that the High Commissioner did not have time to meet with them, her First Officer has come to the steps of the office to accept the letter on behalf of Ms Tasneem. The First Officer appeared apologetic and repeatedly emphasised that he will make sure a meeting with the representatives of the organising groups and the High Commissioner will be arranged at a later date. Activists said that they were hurt by the fact that High Commissioner did not have interest in meeting with global climate activists on Phulbari Day. Short speeches were given by Richard Solly, network coordinator of London Mining Network, Sara Cordovez of Extinction Rebellion Youth Solidarity, and placards were read loudly by XR YouthUK activists. Activists said that they will come back to this venue until the day the Phulbari Verdict is implemented.

 Rumana Hashem , the co-ordinator of Phulbari Solidarity Group  and an

eye-witness to Phulbari shooting said:

I am sad that the High Commissioner did not make time for us on  a sensitive issue on Phulbari Day. Bangladesh High Commission is fully aware that the London Stock Exchange is hosting a company that is responsible for gross human rights violations and that does not have a valid license for business in Bangladesh. But they are not taking action to prevent this crime. I have witnessed GCM’s violence in Phulbari. 15 years on, the company continues to grab money by selling deceitful shares on Phulbari’s name. The company does not hold any valid asset to operate in Phulbari and does not have permission for mining anywhere in the world. The Bangladesh’s state minister stated that the government will take legal action against GCM. That was in 2019. Its’ been two years since.  We have written to LSE’s Chief Financial Officer and Chief Executive Officers twice, and submitted evidence showing that GCM is involved in fraudulent business at LSE. It is now the High Commission and Bangladesh Government who should take action.”

Rumana Hashem of PSGBD holds a poster made by the Youths of Phulbari Public Library showing women are shouting at para-military men during curfew after the shooting in the evening of 26 August 2006. Photocredit: Fe Haslam.

Of the campaign to de-list GCM, Richard Solly, Network Coordinator of London Mining Network, said:

“Since LMN was launched in 2007, we have supported the struggle against the Phulbari project. It is utter madness for GCM to keep pressing on with a new opencast coal project which would displace tens of thousands of people dependent on rural occupations, with no guarantee that they could find alternative work, and at a time when we know we have to stop burning coal anyway. UK authorities should not allow London share markets to be used to finance this kind of destructive project. GCM should be delisted.”

In the afternoon, 200 protesters from across the world joined the campaigners at a Live streamed witness and solidarity event hosted by the Phulbari Solidarity Group, Bibortan Cultural Group, and London Mining Network on zoom, where speakers from Phulbari communities and Bangladesh National Committee were joined by Women of Colour, Foil Vedanta and London Mining Network. Artists and eco-feminists from Bibortan cultural group performed Bengali songs and music for Phulbari resistance, save the Sunderbans and ecological struggles. The event ended by reading the Phulbari Verdict 2006, the original agreement with the government and the communities in resistance, which was signed by Anu Muhammad and the Mayor of Dinajpur, Mizanur Rahman Minu on 30 August, 2006. Rumana Hashem read the agreement.

Placard made by XR Youth Solidarity activist in solidarity with Phulbari communities in resistance. Photocredit: Saul Jones

Sara Calaway, Co-founder of Women of Colour, said:

The determined resistance of women in particular halted plans for a devastating coal mine. People of Phulbari — women, men and children, are acting also for us and we must act with them.  Our thoughts are with the families of the children shot dead by paramilitaries, and those injured. These brutal attacks did not to stop protests.  Women, as often happens, were central — on marches, road blocks, and even courageously chasing away paramilitaries with brooms and cooking utensils to protect lives.  Your strength is an inspiration to us all.  We will publicise your struggle especially during the weeks of climate action to end polluters – we must abolish multi-national polluters to save the planet and ourselves. 

Grassroots women are the carers everywhere. They and all carers for people and planet deserve a income to strengthen our struggle and win.  Power to Phulbari, India’s farmers, Haiti, Burma, Marikana and all organising for justice and to save our planet! From Women of Colour GWS & International Global Women’s Strike: UK, India, Ireland, Peru, Thailand, USA.

Sara Cordovez of Extinction Rebellion Youth Solidarity said:

As XR Youth Solidarity, we stand with the Phulbari Solidarity Group in marking the 15th anniversary of the Phulbari Day shooting. For us at XR Youth Solidarity, Phulbari Day represents the undeniable link between people and planet: our global fossil-fuel addicted economy is killing people, directly and indirectly, and driving us towards the ecological and climate collapse, while leaving communities like Phulbari to mourn for the youth that stood against this fate. We stand united against GCM and emphatically condemn their continued listing in the London Stock Exchange.”

Colombian mining activist Sara Cordovez of XR Youth Solidarity holds her third hand written placard outside of Bangladesh High Commission London on 26 August 2021. Photocredit: Rumana Hashem, PSG.

Speaking from Bangladesh, Professor Anu Muhammad , Member Secretary of the  central National Committee to Protect Natural Resources said:

This is unbelievable that a fraud company like GCM which has no credibility even as a business house, rather it has blood in its hands, lies in their leaps, falsehood in their papers, poison in their activities- still enjoying support from British establishment to continue with these. This company has been cheating people in share business to make money in the name of Phulbari where they were behind killing people, on which they have no valid license, where they tried to implement a disastrous project, from where they were driven out in 2006 by a mass uprising and never allowed to enter.

Since 2006, in all these years they have been trying to  incite violence in the area, tried to mobilize criminals against community leaders, made false cases against them, but could not enter into the area. Peoples resistance remains strong. These frauds should also be driven out by British institutions including LSE. We are looking forward to seeing the trial of these criminals in Dhaka and London .”

Extinction Rebellion Youth Solidarity activists hold their hadwritten placards wtih cello outside of Bangladesh High Commission in London on Phulbari Day on 26 August. Photocredit: Rumana Hashem