The police have ‘harassed’ Syeda Ratna and her teenage son by keeping them in lock-up for protesting the construction of a wall in a playground in the capital's Kalabagan area.

The woman and the son were detained at around 11.00am and were taken to the Kalabagan police station. Upon receiving the news, rights activists, leaders and activists of environmental organisations, leaders and activists of Udichi Shilpi Gosthi and local residents rushed to the police station. They protested in front of the police station till night.

In the face of the protest, police released the woman and her son at midnight after making them sign a bond

Syeda Ratna is an activist of Udichi Shilpi Gosthi.

Earlier, at around 10.30pm, a top official of the police said that two cases have been lodged against Syeda Ratna on allegations of obstructing government work and also under the Digital Security Act.

However, at around 11.00pm, police said only one case would be filed against Syeda Ratna on charges of obstructing government work. They said they would release her son before that. However, police said they would release both of them at around 12.00am.

Before that, Paritosh Chandra, the officer-in-charge (OC) of the Kalabagan police station, received a phone call. He spoke to someone over the phone in another room of the police station. After attending the call he came out and informed the newspersons about the decision to release Syeda Ratna and her son.

After the release of Syeda Ratna and her son, OC Paritosh Chandra was asked whether harassing somebody by detaining in custody all the day without any case was legal.

He told Prothom Alo in reply that he wouldn't make any comment about the matter. The media and public relations division will provide details about it in a press conference.

The bond taken by the police from Syeda Ratna mentioned they would not stage any more movements to protect playgrounds. The protesters left the police station with the mother and son, singing protest songs. Syeda Ratna was looking distressed at the time. She hugged her son when she got to see him.

Syeda Ratna told the journalists that she was brought to the police station and was kept there. She did not want to talk anymore as she was not feeling well.

Syeda Ratna is a member of Udichi Shilpi Gosthi. Her son is a student of Ideal College. Mentioning that Ratna was active in the movement to protect the playgrounds in the city, her daughter Sheuti Shahgufta told Prothom Alo, “The police were up bricks and brick chips on the field last night (Saturday). My mother went live on Facebook in the morning the next day. She was then arrested. Later, when my brother came out of the house to the street and the police arrested him too and took them to the Kalabagan police station.”

The field in Kalabagan is located in a lane opposite Square Hospital. It is an open space known as the Tentultala field. Local children used to play there. In addition, various social programmes, including Eid prayers and janaza are held in the field.

According to the police, Dhaka district administration has allotted the land for the construction of its own building for the Kalabagan police station under the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP).

Notably, the Dhaka district administration in a notice dated 24 August 2020 mentioned the land as fallow.

The locals held various programmes at different times to save the field. On 4 February, they held a human chain in front of the concord tower in the capital’s Panthapath. Local children, teenagers and residents took part in the programme held under the banner of ‘Kalabagan Residents’. Syeda Ratna was one of the main organisers of the human chain.

Speaking to Prothom Alo in the evening on Sunday, Syeda Ratna’s daughter Sheuti Shahgufta said her brother was not even 18 years old. Despite that, he was kept in custody by the police.

Meanwhile, a picture of keeping the teenager in custody went viral on social media on Sunday afternoon. The common people strongly condemned such an action of the police.

Syeda Ratna embraces her son after being released from the custody
Sajid Hossain

Asked about this, Supreme Court lawyer Shahdeen Malik told Prothom Alo that keeping the teenager in custody in such a way is illegal. Even if we suppose that he obstructed government work, he still could be released after warning. However, the way the police kept him in custody is cruel and inhuman.

Protest in front of the police station

At around 9.00pm, rights activists, leaders and activists of environmental organisations, leaders and activists of Udichi Shilpi Gosthi and local residents were seen protesting in front of the Kalabagan police station demanding the release of Syeda Ratna and her son. They were holding placards with various slogans, including ‘hey police, where is my mother?’, ‘where is my sister, police?’, ‘where is my brother, police?’, ‘we don’t want a police station on that playground’ and so on. They were also chanting different slogans at the time.

After the detention of the mother and son, no one was allowed to enter the police station. This correspondent was also stopped by the police while trying to enter the police station. Some police members at the gate said no one was allowed to enter the police station since noon following orders from senior officials.

Nazia Nigar, an activist of Udichi, told Prothom Alo at around 9.00pm in front of the police station said, “Syeda Ratna and her are being harassed shamefully by the police as she was working on establishing the rights of the citizens.”

Construction of wall in the playground

Meanwhile, police continued with the construction of the wall on the playground after taking Syeda Ratna and her son in custody. A team of police were deployed there at the time.

Upon receiving the news about the detention of Syeda Ratna and her son, rights activists Khushi Kabir, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) Syeda Rizwana Hasan, secretary of Dhaka city Udichi Arif Nur and many others went to the field at around 2.00pm. Earlier, they went to the police station, but weren’t allowed to enter the police station. After that, they went to the field from the police station.

BELA's chief Executive Rizwana Hasan speaks to the journalists after the release of Syeda Ratna and her son at the Kalbagan police station premise on 25 April, 2022
Sajid Hossain

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Rizwana Hasan said “I hope the police will stop constructing the police station building on the field in the same way they released Syeda Ratna and her son showing respect to people’s demands. There is only one playground for the children in the entire vicinity. Unless they provide us an alternative playground in the area, we will not allow them to construct the building. The movement will continue.”

She further said, “We don’t want a criminal society. Children’s playgrounds are essential in every area of the country. Crimes cannot be quelled by setting up police stations in playgrounds. Rather, it is the playground which can reduce crimes.”

“We don’t want any police station or any other structure on that field unless an alternative playground is arranged,” she added.

Earlier on 31 January, some members of police punished some children for playing in the Tentultala field. Four members of police were suspended after a video of punishing the children went viral on social media drawing strong criticism all over the country.

In the human chain held on 4 February demanding the protection of the field, Syed Ratna said they had sent letters to the office of the prime minister and Dhaka South City Corporation mayor. The local MP had assured that he would see to the matter. However, the children were not allowed to enter the field anymore.

‘A step to establish reign of terror’

There are huge crises of playing grounds in Dhaka. The children are being confined within the four walls due to lack of playgrounds. More and more open spaces in the city are being occupied. As a result, the number of playing grounds is shrinking rapidly.

Regarding the detention of Syeda Ratna and her son all day, Supreme Court lawyer Shahdeen Malik said, “It is a step to establish a reign of terror.”