A GROUP of eminent citizens has written to the chief justice urging him to consider an early release of more than 50 students kept in pretrial detention since they were arrested at demonstrations against the visit of India’s prime minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh in March 26–27. The students, mainly comprising of left-leaning organisations, were arrested when they were holding protests against Modi’s visit on the campus of the University of Dhaka because of Modi’s extreme anti-Muslim religious communalism and pogrom in Gujarat, the high-handedness of India, led by Modi, in the form of unabated death of Bangladeshis in the hands of India’s border guards, bilateral issues that are in Bangladesh’s interests left unresolved by India, India’s use of national register of citizens in Assam purporting pressure on Bangladesh and India’s having had almost everything in its own interest by arm-twisting Bangladesh. The group of citizens, which sent the letter to the chief justice on May 4, at a press conference in Dhaka on May 8, iterated their demand for the remand of the students in question on bail before Eid-ul-Fitr, which is a few days away.
The group also says that it has requested the chief justice to look into if the students faced any torture in detention when they were remanded in police custody, noting that steps should be taken to stop the misuse or abuse of the Digital Security Act 2018. The protests that the students held are just and democratic, the kind of which is widely in practice across the world, in view of the grounds that the students stood. The citizens’ group also holds brief for the release of the students saying that while they have the right to remand on bail on legal and humanitarian grounds, lower courts used to remand on bail the people arrested in such political cases in the past. The government may have arrested the protesters to save its face when Narendra Modi was due to visit Bangladesh, in furtherance of its subservient foreign policy towards India. The government, which could use the protests as a device to mount pressure on India for the settlement of all issues that are in Bangladesh’s interests, rather showed high-handedness. Such high-handedness on part of the government inevitably shrinks the space for dissent, which is one of the basic tenets of democracy.
It is time that the government stopped treading the path of high-handedness in relation to dissent, in general, and the parties in opposition, in particular. While the government should, in such a situation, release the students who have been in pretrial detention since their arrest in March in the due process of law for remand on bail, it also needs to do some soul-searching and review its subservient foreign policy towards India. The government must also stop becoming heavy-handed in dealing with dissent and opposition but for which a democratic dispensation is quite impossible.
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