Perpetrators of violence against protesters and journalists in Bangladesh must be held accountable

A global human rights group has called for police and ruling party supporters to be held accountable for their violent responses to peaceful student protests in Bangladesh. Thousands of students protesting poor road safety have been targeted with excessive force by police and brutal attacks reportedly from the student wing of the ruling party.

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, has condemned the violence, and is calling on the government to investigate it, bring perpetrators to justice and ensure reparations for victims.

The demonstrations, which were triggered by the killing of two teenagers by a speeding bus on July 29, have brought parts of the capital Dhaka to a standstill over the last week. According to reports, more than a hundred protesters were injured on August 4 after police fired rubber bullets at them. Students, including some who were rushing to nearby hospitals for treatment for injuries resulting from police action, were also reportedly attacked by members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the student wing of the ruling Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) party.

Bangladeshi authorities also reportedly shut down mobile Internet access across swathes of the country on August 5 as security forces tried to quell protests.

Said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Research officer: “The police must respect and protect citizens’ fundamental right to peaceful protest. While they have a duty to maintain law and order, it should never be used as an excuse to resort to excessive use of force. Police are not above the law.”

“The repeated failure of police to stop attacks on protesters by people believed to be linked to the ruling party is extremely disturbing and should also be condemned,” Benedict said.

Police and alleged BCL members have also attacked at least ten journalists, some of whom were detained. At least four journalists from The Daily Star newspaper were reportedly beaten while at least seven photojournalists were injured in attacks in Jhigatala and Science Laboratory areas of the city on 5 August. Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam was arbitrarily arrested at his home, just hours after he posted a video to Facebook about protests in the city.

Bangladesh’s human rights situation has alarmingly deteriorated ahead of national elections scheduled for later this year. The BCL have been attacking students protesting the civil service quota system, which reserves 30 percent of government jobs for children of freedom fighters from Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971. Academics and journalists supporting them have also been targeted. Some student activists were subsequently detained and charged.

CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civil society in all countries, has rated the space for civil society in Bangladesh as ‘repressed’.



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Grant Clark