Several hundred BCL men armed with metal rods, machetes, and sticks attacked the protesting students holding demonstrations for road safety at Dhammondi, Dhaka, on Sunday.
The men in helmets, from Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), student wing of ruling Bangladesh Awami League, had police protection while carrying out the attacks.
During the attacks, police fired tear gas at the protesters and the BCL men roughed the students up ruthlessly.
BCL men also assaulted journalists on the spot. Those who took photos on cell phones from nearby buildings or rooftops were beaten up too.
A lady doctor and an elderly pedestrian were also roughed up.
At least 30 injured people were admitted to hospitals. Among them, fourteen were admitted into Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
With this, the toll of people injured by BCL and other affiliated organistations of the ruling Awami League rose to 200.
The widespread protests were sparked off as a speeding bus of Jabal-e Nur Paribahan ran over a group of students at Kurmitola area, Dhaka on Sunday (29 July), killing two.
Young protesters from schools and colleges took to the street protesting against the deaths and demanded safe roads. They also began checking driving licenses of drivers and disicplined traffic movements.
By Tuesday the entire traffic control system came into the students' hands. In the meantime, the safe road movement spread across the country, following suit.
To tackle the situation, the police called on a traffic week on Sunday. Even so, the protesting students took position at 10 points of the city Sunday.
BCL's Saturday attack triggered the largest gathering so far in this movement at the Science Laboratory intersection and at Dhanmondi on Sunday. In this protest held to denounce the earlier attack, the BCL men attacked journalists, students, and people.
How it all began
University students had two programmes on Sunday protesting against the attacks on the agitating students on Saturday.
A human chain was formed at the premises of Aparajeyo Bangla sculpture of Dhaka University led by the business studies faculty of the university in the morning.
Another human chain was formed by students and several leftist organisations leaders and activists at the Raju anti-terrorism sculpture premises at 11:00am.
Several thousands of students from Dhaka University, Bangladesh Engineering University, Dhaka Medical College, and Dhaka Nursing College joined these demonstrations.
After the demonstrations the participating students decided to march forward to Jhigatola from Shahbagh and to return to Shahbagh to conclude the demonstration.
They marched forward in a procession, chanting 'we want justice', towards Jhigatola via Science Laboratory intersection around 12:00pm. A section of the students was crossing the Jhigatola intersection area before Japan-Bangladesh Friendship Hospital.
Another section of the students stood facing the police members there already taking position at Shimanta Square from morning.
The demonstrators were shouting at the police. At one stage, the police began firing tear gas at the students.
In retaliation, the students also threw brickbats and stones at the police and lit fires to dispel the tear gas effect.
Dispersed by the repeated police chases, the students took cover at different places within 1:30pm. The police then pulled them out from these places and brought them to Dhanmondi. They tried to escape through the nearby park.
Eye witnesses said, youths armed with sticks and iron rods from around the Awami League office chased the students who were trying to escape through the Dhanmondi Lake area.
At the same time, several hundreds of students coming from Dhaka College attacked the general students.
At first, two Dhaka University students came out of Dhanmondi, bleeding. They were beaten brutally with iron rods and sticks.
Another Dhaka University student on rickshaw emerged, following them. He was slashed by a machete in his face.
As journalists were taking photos of the injured ones, all on a sudden, the BCL men came and threatened them. The BCL men, in presence of the police, said if anyone took photos, then all the newsmen there would be 'bleeding'.
The BCL men then threw stones at the people taking pictures and videos from nearby buildings.
They also assaulted a lady doctor on a rickshaw. After a few minutes, they beat up an elderly pedestrian crossing the area ignoring his repeated pleas for mercy.
The scene around Science Laboratory area was the same around 2:00pm. The young protesters gathered before the Multiplan Center.
As soon as the BCL men arrived at the spot, the police started firing tear gas at the students around 1:30pm. The BCL men in helmets then chased the students to Kataban, armed with machetes, metal rods, sticks and so on. They roughed up several students.
Those taking photo or videos were threatened and attacked with stones. Several said they would 'eat up' anyone taking snaps.
The police then came and took position at Bata Signal area.
The students holding procession at Asad Gate around 12:30pm were treated in the same manner. As they arrived at Science Laboratory, the police chased them and fired tear gas.
Before the procession was turned away, armed BCL men arrived at the spot and did not allow the witnesses take photos. During the whole course the police did nothing but accompany the BCL men.
"The demonstrators were heading to the Awami League office in Dhanmondi. We tried to refrain them from doing so," Maruf Hossain, deputy commissioner of Ramna zone, Dhaka metropolitan police said to the journalists at the time. When asked why they were shoving the agitating students only instead of the armed ones, he said, "When the students were dispersed, the police got confused. We couldn't identify who was on whose side. So, those who threw stones at the police were stopped only."
A police officer on duty at Shahbagh said the police could not identify the demonstrators in the procession coming from Dhaka University’s TSC area. As they were ready to fire tear gas on the procession, instructions via walkie-talkie were delivered saying, 'Alpha-Lima' (Phonetic alphabet for A, L, meaning Awami League) and the procession was allowed to go on.
Another police official said a group of armed BCL men in helmets came from the Dhaka College area around 2:00pm and they were also allowed to carry on their procession towards Dhanmondi Road 1 due to the 'Alpha-Lima' instructions via walkie-talkie.
Several of the police sources said, to tackle the movement a meeting was held at the police headquarters on Thursday.
It was decided that the leaders and activists of political parties and their student wings will be incorporated to tackle the situation.
Following this, the BCL men attacked the students at Dhanmondi in the presence of the police on Saturday.
The attacks were instigated by a rumour. The police members took the role of mere witnesses during Saturday attacks and on Sunday they acted as BCL associates.
No police officer of Dhaka Metropolitan police agreed to comment on the attacks carried out under police cover.
Prior to the attacks on Sunday, in the afternoon, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan warned during the launching of Traffic Week at Dhaka’s Zero Point, tough punitive actions against the instigators of the protests saying, "Our patience has a limit."
At the time of the attacks at Dhanmondi, Obaidul Quader, AL general secretary and also the roads, transport and bridges minister, and Abdur Rahman, AL joint secretary, were at the Dhanmondi Road 3 Awami League office.
Several party men took position around the office then.
The scenario was similar in several places of the country on Sunday. University students, all across the country, held demonstrations and formed human chains on Sunday protesting against the attacks. Students from Chittagong University of Science and Technology, Rajshahi University of Science and Technology, Haji Danesh University of Science and Technology, Kushtia Islamic University, Bangladesh Agricultural University, and also from Khulna, Barishal, Faridpur took part in the programmes.