International rights organizations on Wednesday urged Bangladesh government to halt ‘arbitrary arrests’, prosecute violent attackers on student protesters and immediately and unconditionally release those thrown in jail only for speaking out during the protests.
The demands were put forward in a news release of New York based Human Rights Watch and in a joint open letter to president Abdul Hamid written by Asian Human Rights Commission, Asia Democracy Network, CIVICUS, FORUM-ASIA, Human Rights Defenders’ Alert, and People’s Watch.
The HRW news release posted on its official website said ‘the recent wave
of arrests, targeting student protesters and journalists in Bangladesh, has created an atmosphere of fear, putting a serious chill on free speech.’
The comments and demands were made by the HRW in the backdrop of recent nine-day countrywide students’ protests demanding safe roads and ending traffic anarchy since July 29 sparked by killing of two teen students by a reckless bus driver and the accident leaving 12 other teens injured at Kurmitola in the capital.
The school children’s protests abruptly came to an end on August 6 amid joint attacks by the police and ruling Awami League men on the protesters and arrests of university students for supporting the beleaguered school children.
Those arrested or picked up and interrogated in custody were denied bails until now.
‘Bangladesh authorities are tracking social media accounts and have detained dozens of people across the country for criticizing the government over its violent crackdown on peaceful protesters,’ said the HRW.
The HRW said that nearly all the arrests had been made under the draconian Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act.
It said that the Bangladesh government should, once and for all, replace the ICT Act with one that upholds the principles of freedom of expression and stop intimidating those who hold it accountable.
The open letter to the president, posted on the official website of AHRC, expressed concern over the serious violations of civic freedoms perpetrated during recent protests and demanded immediate steps to address these issues in accordance with the government’s international human rights obligations.
‘We are also concerned about the arbitrary arrest of scores of individuals around the protest, in particularly Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam who was taken from his home, just hours after he made comments on Al-Jazeera about protests in the city,’ it said.
In the open letter, they put forward a five-point demand including immediate and unconditional release of all protesters who have been arbitrarily detained for exercising their human rights, in particular photographer Shahidul Alam, and dropping all the charges brought against them.
The open letter also called for carrying out prompt, impartial, independent and efficient investigations into all complaints and reports of excessive use of force by the police, as well as attacks by pro AL activists, against protesters and journalists, bring those responsible to justice and provide reparations to the victims.
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