What you need to know about the uproar in Bangladesh

Disclaimer* This article intends to inform the international readers about the recent events in Dhaka. This article is against fabricated news and unverified rumours. Furthermore, this article intends to promote peace and understanding between the students and the government of Bangladesh. 

Bangladesh was taken for a rollercoaster ride for the last week on 29th July 2018 two students were hit by a speeding bus on a busy highway in its capital Dhaka. The country then saw for the first time in its history children from the age of 13-19 take the streets in protest demanding justice for the death of their fellow students. The movement gained momentum as days passed and University students have joined them in demonstrations. The protesters demanded traffic laws be modified with 9 demands. Until the demands were met the students took the streets and started taking traffic procedures in their own hands. The Police initially helped the students in the demonstrations as a goodwill gesture and the students were peaceful. However, with various provocations from some entities, some sources (unverified) suggested the ruling party’s student wing known as the Bangladesh Chatro League (BCL) were involved in inciting violence on school students. Also, it is worth noting a lot of accusations that were circulating on social media against BCL were unverified therefore unproven. There were accusations of rape, murder and abduction of all which are yet to be proven by any supporting evidence.

The violence started as students clashed with the supposedly the BCL (unverified) and later the Police were forced to step in and the whole protest took a different turn as it became a conflict of vengeance. The students fuming over the accusations made by some of the peers and some online sources have provoked the students to take this fight to the next level. What began as a peaceful demonstration with noble demands for safer roads and bringing the culprits of road accidents to justice took an unpredictable turn and it brought the whole city of Dhaka to its knees. The public transport industry primarily the intercity bus companies were on strike as a consequence to this and the millions of Dhaka citizens suffered dearly. However, as the school students have left the streets because it became unsafe for them to demonstrate the University students replaced them on 6th August. The conflict between the University students and the Police took the city by shock.

As various fabricated news and rumours were circulating in social media and among the student groups the government decided to step in by restricting internet access on 5th August. The government stopped all LTE, 3G and 4G services in order to restrict the spread of rumours and unverified news that were fuming the students further to take the last resort of violence. This was heavily criticised by activists and some media, due to the pressure by the civil society the government allowed the internet services to return the next day. There has been a new legislation (ICT Act) that was passed against fabricated news, inciting violence and other cyber crimes. This allowed the Police to arrest some notable individuals for spreading fabricated news without verification and they are currently being held by police for questioning.

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A student with body painting during the protests demanding justice.

Moreover, the government and the BCL are speculating there has been a sabotage by the opposition namely (BNP, Jamaat and its student wing). The government officials and supporters are speculating that the anti-government elements around the country have sabotaged this peaceful demonstration by provoking the students through spreading fabricated news and inciting violence against BCL and the Police. Many of the student activists have come out and rejected any connections with anti-government elements and have reaffirmed their demands stand and they do not incline with the agenda of the anti-government elements in the state. Furthermore, the opposition leader Khaleda Zia is currently in jail for corruption charges. The opposition activists are likely to escalate this situation further in order to destabilise the country in order to somehow overthrow the current administration whom they claim to be ‘illegitimate’.

Now, the opposition is blaming the government of poor leadership and mismanagement while the government are blaming the opposition of sabotaging peaceful demonstrations in order to incite violence with the hope of destabilising the country to make the government look weak. The accusations are flying both ways, however, as a result, the lives of average people in Bangladesh are at a halt at the moment. The transport ministry and security agencies of the government have agreed to consider every demand of the students which were with best interests and have announced they will look into the matter swiftly. Moreover, the US ambassador to Bangladesh Marcia Bernicat on Saturday evening (4th August) was attending an event organised by an NGO was attacked on the way back by some miscreants on motorcycles. This could have seriously escalated the issue if the ambassador was harmed. Luckily the ambassador was unharmed and was returned safely to her residence.

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Meanwhile, the Swedish Embassy’s Facebook page has released an official joint statement from the EU.

“‘EU Heads of Mission stress that the violent scenes in Dhaka in recent days, particularly where school children and young people have been caught in protests orviolent clashes with other groups are a source of real concern.

We expect all sides to remain calm and to respect the right to peaceful protest. Incidents of unlawful or disproportionate violence or action against protestors, journalists or others need to stop; those that happened must be investigated and perpetrators held to account.

The school-children’s protests highlighted fears over road safety and the enforcement of laws and regulations on the roads in Bangladesh. The Government’s recognition of the need for action is a welcome step and we therefore expect further Government action to address this without delay.’

Mr. Anders Öhrström, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., Embassy of Sweden has signed the above statement along with Heads of Mission of the European Union in Bangladesh; H.E. Ms. Alison Blake, High Commissioner, British High Commission, H.E. Mr. Mikael Hemniti Winther, Ambassador, Royal Danish Embassy, H.E. Mr. D. Álvaro de Salas Giménez de Azcárate, Ambassador, Embassy of Spain, Mr. Jean-Pierre Poncet, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., Embassy of France, Mr. Giuseppe Semenza, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., Embassy of Italy
Mr. Michael Schultheiss, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Mr. Jeroen Steeghs, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Mr. Konstantinos Vardakis, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., Delegation of the European Union.”

— Statement released by the Swedish Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The protests are still predicted to take place around the city today on 7th August, as some students and activists had decided to peacefully march towards the parliament in Dhaka to further push the government to consider their demands but were later postponed. The government and the security agencies have already had some trouble maintaining peace in the last couple of days, it is a crucial time for them to ensure the safety of the protesters and of the stability of the country. It is advised by all sides after the mayhem in the last couple of days to keep the protests peaceful and to combat fabricated news and unverified rumours.

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A policeman during the Dhaka protests.

All images used in this article are from here: The photographer is Munir uz Zaman

 

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