Bangladesh police on Tuesday announced the arrests of two union leaders who had protested the closure of loss-making jute mills, more than 24 hours after their families accused plain-clothed officers of picking them up.
The arrests followed Dhaka's decision last week to shut down all 25 of its state-run jute mills and lay off 25,000 employees, citing the factories' inability to compete with the private sector.
Thousands of workers protested in the southern city of Khulna ahead of last week's announcement, which came as the impoverished nation struggles to contain the impact of coronavirus on its export-oriented garment sector, with global brands cancelling or withholding orders.
Khulna police told AFP the two union leaders, Oliar Rahman and Nur Islam, were arrested on charges of assaulting officers in a case filed in April 2019.
"We have already sent them to court," local police chief Syed Mosharraf Hossain said.
But another union leader said the arrests were intended to foil any attempts at protesting the mill closures.
"We heard they (Rahman and Islam) were allegedly planning a protest... against the shutdown of the mills. That's why they were arrested," he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The two men's families said they feared the two would be murdered in so-called crossfires -- allegedly staged police shootouts that have seen hundreds of suspected criminals and drug traffickers killed in recent years.
Islam's son Mohammad Jewel told AFP that he had to make the rounds of several police stations before he was informed about the arrests and the charges, more than 30 hours after his father was picked up by unidentified men.
"We were scared. We thought he was taken for a crossfire," Jewel said.
Opposition politician Zonayed Saki, whose party held a rally protesting the arrests in Dhaka on Tuesday, called for their immediate release.
"They were arrested ahead of a press conference they scheduled... this week to formally protest the shutdown. The police behaved like goons," he told AFP.
Bangladesh's jute industry currently generates just under $1 billion in annual revenue, but the heavily subsidised state-run factories have long struggled to generate profits.