Solidarity statement for the students of Bangladesh and Shahidul Alam

Karapatan stands in solidarity with the students and human rights defenders in Dhaka, Bangladesh who protested against corruption in their country, and took a stand amid the deaths of two young children due to poor oversight of vehicles and road conditions.

Widespread protests gripped Bangladesh in the past week after students took to the streets to demand road safety from their government. According to reports, this was triggered by the death of two children in Dhaka on July 29, 2018. Their untimely deaths sparked outrage, which immediately led to protests. Many students, mainly organized through social media, blocked major roads and placed the capital city in a deadlock. The protesters demanded better road regulation and proper screening of vehicles and drivers before handing out licenses, among other road safety reforms.

Protests turned violent when the Bangladesh government, eager to suppress the legitimate demands of the protesters, dispatched thousands of police forces. Students narrated that on August 4, Saturday, the police started using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protest. A pro-government group also allegedly hurt the students and members of the media. The government also blocked internet services to prevent further efforts at organizing people, as well as to block sharing of real-time news and updates.
Karapatan also condemns the targeting of human rights defenders. According to Front Line Defenders, on August 5, award-winnning photojournalist Shahidul Alam was detained at his home by elements of the police. The next day, he was falsely charged with “spreading propaganda and false information against the government.” Alam reported that he was tortured while in custody. This is unacceptable, and a very telling sign that governments will go to such extreme lengths to hide their violations and discredit those courageous enough to expose it. We likewise call for the immediate release of Shahidul Alam.

Karapatan condemned this concerted effort to silence the calls of protesters and human rights defenders, instead of addressing their demands. This is typical of repressive governments - to deny allegations, shift blame, control media coverage, or altogether prevent block the initiatives of groups and individuals to organize. This is also happening in the Philippines where State forces have no regard for human rights.