Ansar Ahmed Ullah
Contributing Editor, Sottobani
London: A protest was held on 12 December outside the AGM of British mining company Global Coal Resources Management (GCM) at the Aeronautical Society in Hamilton Place in London. In solidarity with the communities in Phulbari, where three people were shot dead as paramilitary officers opened fire on a demonstration of 80,000 people in 2006, protesters reaffirmed that they will not sleep until GCM is ousted from Bangladesh. A parallel protest followed by a press conference was held in Phulbari against the plans by GCM, an AIM-listed company who want to build a massive open cast coal mine by forcibly displacing 130,000 people in Phulbari, northwest Bangladesh.
Inside the AGM in London, dissident shareholders asked questions on behalf of the communities in Phulbari and Dinajpur by accusing the company of human rights abuses as the CEO of the company has filed multiple arbitrary charges against 26 frontline defenders, indigenous farmers, small entrepreneurs and local leaders who opposed the mine.
Climate activists and community defenders under the banner of Committee to Protect Resources of Bangladesh and Phulbari Solidarity Group , calling for three-point demands, blocked the pavement at the main entrance of the Aeronautical Society for two hours. They demanded that GCM’s CEO, Gary N Lye, must withdraw all cases against activists in Bangladesh with immediate effect; that GCM must stop selling shares in the name of Phulbari project in London’s Alternative Investors Market, and that GCM must Leave Bangladesh immediately. The demo ended with a comedy coal show where activists wearing masks of coal thieves, Gary N Lye (CEO of the company) and Michael Tang (the Chairman of the company) attacked a Bangladeshi woman holding coal from Phulbari. Protesters forced the mask men to leave the premises and sang Phulbari jingles against coal mine: “your home and my home, Phulbari Phulbari”.
The protest echoed the demands made by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Port-Power and Mineral Resources in Bangladesh . Activists from 12 grassroots organisations, including Coal Action Network, Grow Heathrow, Foil Vedanta, South Asia Solidarity Group, K M Protectors (North-east England), Communist Party of Bangladesh – UK branch, Bangladesh Socialist Party, UK branch, Reclaim the Power, London Mining Network, Plane Stupid, and the Socialist Party of England and Wales, joined the protest.
Global Coal Management, formerly known as Asia Energy, has been allegedly involved in abuse and harassment of opponents of the proposed Phulbari mine. Media reports on the brutal death of Nasrin Huq, the former executive director of Action Aid, revealed that Huq was killed brutally in her car park because of her strong opposition to the project. Later in August 26 in 2006, three people were shot dead and two hundred injured in a demonstration of 80,000 people who marched against plans by the company. It has been 11 years since the powerful resistance in the aftermath of the shooting against an open-cast mine in Phulbari has put a decade long halt to the project. Government has cancelled the company’s license but the company has been pushing the government to give them a go ahead.
Rumana Hashem, the PSG spokesperson and an eye witness to the Phulbari outburst in 2006, said, “the company is abusing our people and criminalising society in Bangladesh. We will hold them to account here. We will not give up until London Stock Exchange de-list GCM. We will ensure that this company could never go back to Bangladesh.’”
Akhter Sobhan Khan of Committee to Protect Resources of Bangladesh said that, “The company does not have a valid contract with Bangladesh; nevertheless, they are selling shares in the name of Phulbari project. London Stock Exchange must de-list GCM as they are doing deceitful marketing of the project”.
If the mine is built, it would not only displace 130,000 families of farmers in Phulbari but also would destroy 14,600 hectares of highly cultivable land, would pose threats to clean water resources and would leave devastative impact on one of the world’s largest mangrove forests and UNESCO heritage site, the Sunderbans. In February 2012, seven UN rapporteurs expressed grave concerns to the project, and at national and international level. The UK National Contact Point has acknowledged the strong opposition to the project in an assessment in 2015.