Police harass students of safe road movement

Sheikh Sabiha Alam . Dhaka | Update:

Safe road movement. Prothom Alo file photoPolice have yet to specify any charges against persons arrested during the students’ movement for safe roads. They say that no one has been accused of being guilty or innocent at this stage and they also do not know when investigations will be completed.

As the investigations are still underway, those arrested during the movement, including 22 students of private universities, are having to appear in court every month. With cases filed against them, their studies and jobs are being hampered. A student, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo, the university administraton has shown some sympathy towards them in the beginning, but not anymore. The exams are often held on the date they have to appear in court. They either have to take their exam and rush to court, or rush to the exams from court. They are also ridiculed and mocked.

The safe road movement burst out when students took to the streets in protest, following two college students being killed by a bus in the capital city on 29 September last year. When the demonstrating students were attacked on 4 August, students of Dhaka University took to the streets the next day. Then on 6 August, students of North South University and other universities also took to the streets. And before they could take to the streets, the students of East West University were confined in their own campus. Reportedly, police as well as helmet and lungi clad persons assaulted them.

Sixty cases were filed in connection to the safe road movement which continued for around a week in Dhaka City. Police in Badda and Bhatara filed cases against over a hundred persons, naming 32 specifically. And 22 students of private universities were arrested in those cases.

Serious charges
The charges brought against the students were serious. The charges filed by the Badda police station against the students include creating violence with dangerous weapons, obstructing government work, attacking the police, damaging police vehicles and setting fire to the Badda police station. A total of 19 per sons were accused in that case. Some former students were charged with instigation. The Bhatara police station brought charges against 13 students of North South University, Independent University of Bangladesh and Asian University, as well as against numerous unidentified persons. They were accused to obstructing government duties, attacking government personnel and injuring them, as well as halting and damaging vehicles. Six policemen were hurt in those incidents. Three arrested students – Fayez Ahmed, Masad Murtaza bin Asad and Azizul Karim were also injured.

Those arrested for creating violence in Badda were accused of wielding eight three-foot long sticks, broken glass and broken bricks. No specific description was given of how they reportedly attacked the police station.

Kakon Biswas, the main accused in case filed by the Badda police station, was said to have instigated violence. Kakon said he had passed out of university quite some time ago. On the day of the incident, he entered office at nine in the morning and left at six in the evening. He feels he has been included in this case because of his role in the 2015 movement against VAT for post-grad studies.

Bhatara police station brought charges against students of North South University, Asian University and of quite a few other universities. Saber Ahmed of Asian University was arrested in this case. He told Prothom Alo, he had been in front of a bank on the day of the incident when a policeman summoned him. The policeman then handcuffed him and placed him in a prison van. He often contacts the investigating officer but has not been told when the charge sheet or the final report will be prepared. He has been aspiring to go abroad for higher studies but that has now become uncertain.

Five others arrested in this case say they had been attacked by police and the helmet-lungi clad hoodlums without any provocation. At least 40 of those injured in this attack had to be admitted to Apollo Hospital. One of them, Ashraful Islam, had been grievously injured and was kept under intensive care for long at the hospital. These students are asking why cases have been filed against them instead of the helmeted attackers.

The students, however, say the investigating officers have shown sympathy towards them. But no one can say when they will be released from these cases. Several police officers involved in the investigations told Prothom Alo unofficially that they are unable to do anything as they simply have to wait for orders from above.

Drivers accuse, students accused
During the safe road movement, hundreds of the students were charged with damaging buses and a few were arrested. Bus drivers filed cases with the Motijheel, Paltan, Khilkhet, Cantonment and Kotwali police stations against the demonstrating students.

22 case under section 57
Last August 22 cases were filed regarding the safe road movement. Investigations have not been completed in any of the cases. The accused are having to appear in court every month.

One of the students, on condition of anonymity, has said that the universities are not giving them any sort of concessions. Eden College student Lutfun Nahar Luma says she appeared in court on 16 April. A girl in a pink outfit had appeared in a video taken of the movement and she was arrested because she had been wearing a pink outfit too. Another 16 were arrested in that case and the 17 of them have to turn up in court every month.

Officials of Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s cyber crime division say the safe road movement had been hijacked. A rumour had been spread that students were killed and raped in the Awami League office. But no one knows who spread these rumours. It is speculated that the rumours were sparked off from outside the country.

Chairman of the national human rights commission, Kazi Reazul Huq, says the safe road movement was a justified one, but it failed as other elements had entered the scene. It had been a movement of the general students, but they were arrested and harassed. He said the government should look into these cases and resolve them as soon as possible.

*The report, originally appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir

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