By Robin Gomes
Two leading rights groups have accused the government of Bangladesh of using abusive measures to quell students’ protests demanding road safety.
Human Rights Watch
“Instead of prosecuting those responsible for unlawfully attacking student protesters demanding road safety, Bangladesh authorities are arresting students and targeting activists and journalists who are highlighting the abuses,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Monday.
The New York-based group said that members of the ruling Awami League party of prime minister Sheik Hasina, armed with machetes and sticks have swooped in on the protesters and journalists since the students took to the streets on July 29 after two students were killed by a speeding bus in the capital, Dhaka.
Several journalists, including an Associated Press photographer, have been attacked. The rights group also criticized Sunday’s arrest of Shahidul Alam, a renowned photographer and activist, on charges of spreading false information about the protests and propaganda against the government under an information technology law.
A court on Monday allowed police to keep him in custody for seven days for questioning. His colleagues said Alam was tortured after his detention Sunday night.
“Yet again, Bangladesh authorities seem determined to take abusive shortcuts to problems, and then denounce those who criticize,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately release anyone, including Shahidul Alam, they have locked up for peaceful criticism. Instead, authorities should prosecute those, including members of the ruling party’s youth supporters, who are attacking children with sticks and machetes.”
Another prominent human rights watchdog Amnesty International also criticized Hasina's government for its handling of the situation and demanded the release of Alam.
“The Bangladeshi government must end the crackdown on the student protestors and people speaking out against it. The students have a right to peaceful assembly and physical security,” Omar Waraich, Deputy South Asia Director of Amnesty International said in a statement on Monday. While calling for rights to be respected and protected, the London-based group demanded “an immediate and effective investigation into the use of force by police, the violent actions of pro-government vigilantes who also attacked the students, and why the police did nothing to stop them.”
Noting that Bangladesh was heading for election later this year, Waraich said “it is crucial that the government adheres to its international obligations, including the protection of the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and security of persons.”