Bangladesh has come under international attention after a series of student protests generated violence from the state itself. The protesting began on July 29th, when two young Bangladeshi students were killed by an unsafely driven bus. Thirteen others were harmed because of the driver’s speeding. This specific safety issue surpasses one instance, as erratic and illegal driving has killed many Bangladeshi youths. Dhaka, the capital of the nation where these demonstrations are taking place, is the most overpopulated city in the world. While the students’ anger was at first directed at one issue, in the following days, it became clear that general discontent with corruption was the driving force of the continued protests.
This expansion of motive was noted by Shahidul Alam, a famous photographer whose images have appeared in National Geographic, New York Times, and a variety of other influential sources. He founded the Drik gallery and a prestigious photography school, the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute. Alam told Al Jazeera “Today the police specifically asked for help from armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads…The government has miscalculated. It thought that fear and repression would be enough but you cannot tame an entire nation in this manner.”
Alam continued, bringing up the stifling of the press, lootings, government instigated violence and corruption as reasons why the students were so dedicated to their cause. A few hours after his commentary aired on Al Jazeera, the renowned photographer was arrested. Over 20 officers arrived at his home and arrested him for violating section 57 of the International Communication and Technology Act. Some witnesses have reported that Alam was limping when he was brought into custody, raising suspicions about police treatment of the 63 year old man. Rahnuma Ahmed, his partner, described the night at a press conference. She told the public of the fear she felt and of the mistreatment she believed transpired.
She explained that, “We heard from the security guards and our landlord that [he] had been forced into a car. There have been about 30 to 35 men in plain dress. They had forcefully taken away the CCTV camera footage, they put Scotch Tape on the CCTV camera.”
Meanwhile, Moshiur Rahman, a Bangladesh member of the police force stated that the police department was merely interrogating him for his “provocative comments” in relation to the Information Communication and Technology Act and did not comment on the violence reported by witnesses of the arrest.
The Information Communications Technology Act has come under fire from human rights groups and journalist organizations for being unjust. Prior to this, many have been arrested and imprisoned because of the law, and it is a clear attempt to quell any discourse which goes against the government’s actions.
Before his arrest, students were going through the streets and actively checking everyones drivers licenses. These students took on the duties of the government, telling those who did not have proper licenses that they could not continue to drive. Bangladesh has about 25,000 road fatalities annually, yet the problem has not been addressed by the state, leaving teenagers to keep streets safe by themselves. The students have been painted as dangerous rebels by the government, due to vandalizing that occurred during the protests, yet the violence against the students has far surpassed any damage done by them.
Over 100 peaceful protestors were injured by police using tear gas and rubber bullets. Alongside militant policing, the government has also shut down of cellular internet services, which is another example of information being restricted in the nation. Government officials have denied any accusations of violence, yet photos have been leaked showing bloodied students. The United Nations stated it was, “deeply concerned about the reports of violence,” validating the traumas young Bangladeshi people are experiencing.
With the arrest of a well known and widely respected journalistic photographer, the international concern has grown exponentially. Amnesty International has outwardly demanded Alam be freed, as they believe expressing ones views should not result in imprisonment. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has not attempted to collaborate with the students or improve their living conditions, making his reelection in a few months unlikely.
The U.S. Embassy announced, “Nothing can justify the brutal attacks and violence over the weekend against the thousands of young people who have been peacefully exercising their democratic rights in supporting a safer Bangladesh.”
As more photos and news is leaked, the crisis is being taken more seriously. This is a critical first step, as it is necessary for other nations to keep Bangladesh in check and prevent the state from perpetuating more violence against its own citizens.
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