THE government’s coming down heavily on the students who had taken to the streets for nine days since July 29 demanding road safety and an end to corruption in the road transport administration is worrying. This appears more so when government and ruling Awami League leaders have termed the protests, which the students had held also to demand justice for the death of two of their fellows in a traffic accident in Dhaka on July 29, and the cause the school and college students stood for ‘just’ and ‘justified’. While more than a score of university students, who joined the school and college students in the later days of the protests, are remanded in police custody for interrogation after their arrest, many others, including photographer Shahidul Alam, have also been arrested on charge of ‘instigating’ the protests and spreading ‘rumours.’ While extending support for protests that the government leaders think ‘just’ and ‘justified’ is highly unlikely to be construed as ‘instigation’, a high-handed attitude of the government that has been reflected in repression against the students and others who held, joined and supported the protests appears to be an affront to the freedom of expression.
Rights and cultural activists, writers, university teachers, students and left political leaders on Saturday, as New Age reported on Sunday, demanded an immediate and unconditional release of all the detained students, arrested in connection with the protests, Shahidul Alam and others. Globally renowned intellectuals have also demanded the release of all the detained. At least 38 individuals, mostly student protesters, have so far been arrested in 34 cases that the police filed over the protests. But the police are yet to arrest any of the group of people, in helmets or with their faces wrapped around with pieces of cloth, who attacked the school, college and university students who were holding the protests and the journalists who were covering the incidents during the later days of the protests. While the protesters and the media say that the attackers are activists of the Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, the government is portraying them as ‘infiltrators’ in the student protests and people from the opposition political camps. But the law enforcers should have arrested them in any way, their being Chhatra League activists, ‘infiltrators’ or people from the opposition political camps as they attacked the students, brandishing arms and weapons, that too in daylight.
In what has so far followed, the government seems to be trying to create a fearful atmosphere for anyone making noise against chaos, corruption and irregularities, which only shrinks the democratic space for dissenting voice. The arrest of the individuals for trying to make their dissenting voice heard is also an affront to the freedom of expression, as conferred on the citizens by the constitution of the state. The government, therefore, must stop employing this tactic and heed the call, local and international, for the release of the arrested.
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