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 (HRW) said today. It urged that aauthorities should order an immediate investigation into reports that renowned photographer and activist, Shahidul Alam, was beaten while in custody. Alam was detained on August 5, 2018, for criticizing the government and its supporters for targeting students.
Thousands of students, including school children, have been blocking streets to protest the July 29 killings of two students by a speeding bus. According to numerous witnesses, members of the ruling Awami League party student and youth wings, the Bangladesh Chhatra League, and the Awami Juba League, have attacked the protesters with machetes and sticks.
Eyewitnesses and journalists, including Shahidul Alam, also reported that in some areas police stood by while children were beaten up by Awami League supporters, some of whom wore helmets to hide their identity. Some perpetrators were identified when the attacks were caught on camera.
“Yet again, Bangladesh authorities seem determined to take abusive shortcuts to problems, and then denounce those who criticize,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW. “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.”
Following the protests, Bangladesh authorities have promised an end to reckless driving, to regulate traffic, and to enact a new Road Safety Act. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, however, warned protesters to “not to cross the limit.” or be prepared to face police action. Security forces used teargas, rubber bullets, and in some cases, live ammunition against protesters.