An international alliance has called for the release of seven Bangladesh trade unionists detained on the basis of what it says are false charges.

According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, workers and leaders of the Garment Workers Trade Union Centre (GWTUC) were recently requested to join a meeting at the headquarters of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) with the owner of Asiana Garment to negotiate the payment of severance and unpaid wages owed following the sudden closure of the factory.

Around 450 workers arrived but were reportedly told by BGMEA security that no such meeting was scheduled. They were prevented from entering the building and instead protested "peacefully" outside.

CCC says officials came out of the building and attempted to stop the protest by confiscating banners and microphones. Shortly thereafter, the workers report, a large number of men armed with iron rods and sticks appeared and began to violently attack the assembled workers; at least 20 workers were sufficiently injured to require hospital treatment.

According to GWTUC, workers attempted to file a criminal complaint against their attackers at the local police station, but the police refused to take their statements. The BGMEA reportedly filed a criminal complaint following the attack against 12 named persons – comprising the majority of the GWTUC leadership – and 150 unnamed workers, for attempted murder and vandalism.

CCC says that of the 12 leaders charged, only three were present at the protest. Six leaders of the GWTUC and a leader of the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) were detained on 1 April after attending the court to request an extension to their bail. An eighth leader from GWTUC was granted bail. On 5 April the High Court agreed to grant interim bail to all seven, but to date all are said to remain in custody at Dhaka Central Jail.

"The Clean Clothes Campaign wishes to express its solidarity with GWTUC and its leadership and strongly condemns this attack on an independent trade union, which is legitimately organising and campaigning for a much-needed increase in the Bangladesh minimum wage," CCC says. "It is concerning that the Bangladesh garment industry would once again choose to silence and imprison union activists and garment workers than take action to provide the decent living wage they are entitled to."

CCC has called on the BGMEA to withdraw its complaint and to "engage in genuine wage negotiations" with workers and their trade union organisations.