THE protests of the school and college students, who had taken to the streets for nine days on end till Monday demanding justice for the death of their fellows in a road accident in Dhaka on July 29, road safety and the cleansing of the road transport administration, ended, bringing to the fore the failures of the government and showing how to do the job that has not been done for decades because of corruption. But what the government has done, and is doing, surrounding the protests of the students reeks of a foul play on a few counts. The police, who stopped attacking the protesters after the first two days, got back into their usual self attacking the protesters on August 2 while the activists of the Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, attacked the students continuing with their peaceful protests and the journalists covering the protests in August 3–6. The attacks, by Chhatra League activists, in helmets or with their face wrapped around with pieces of cloth, brandishing arms and sharp weapons, left scores of protesters and about two dozen journalists wounded, a few of them grievously, in the very presence of law enforcers, who are reported to have aided the attackers.
The Editors’ Council has rightly condemned the attack on journalists, saying that such attacks are an affront to the freedom of expression and the media, as is guaranteed by the constitution. Democracy, which is one of the hard earned gains of the liberation war, would be, the council says, destroyed if the media are not allowed to function freely. The Awami League’s general secretary, at a news conference, meanwhile, on Monday, said that the party would take steps against any Chhatra League activists who would be found responsible for attacks on the student protesters and journalists. For that to happen, the complaints need to have evidence against Chhatra League activists proving them to be guilty. A group of young people, older than school and college students, attacked the protesters and journalists on three consecutive days and the police are reported to have either stood idle or helped the attackers. Many of the journalists wounded in the attacks had to be treated in hospital. Newspapers and electronic media have published photographs and video footage of the groups of young people attacking the protesters and journalists. Yet, the party’s general secretary now claims that they need evidence to act on the marauding Chhatra League activists. The police should find them out by examining the photographs and video footage and hold them to account. The police should, in any case, do this even if the attackers were, as the ruling party leaders claim, not from the Chhatra League.
What the government has done, or is doing, in a situation like this, seems to be the manifestation of high-handedness and coercion. The government must stop resorting to such ploys to defuse the force that the protests of the students have showed the nation.
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