Bangladesh arrests punish dissent, cultivate fear: Amnesty

“A pall of fear has descended on civil society with protestors being subject to intense surveillance online and arbitrary arrests,” the human rights organisation said in a statement on Friday.

“The Bangladeshi authorities must end this crackdown and release all protestors who were peacefully exercising their human rights. The students were overwhelmingly peaceful, and only a tiny minority of people were involved in violence. Their actions must not become a pretext for an attack on civil society where dissent is punished and people live in fear that they will be arrested next,” said Omar Waraich, Amnesty International’s deputy South Asia director.

According to Amnesty, at least 97 students have been arrested since violence broke out between police, alleged supporters of the ruling Awami League party and protesters calling for road safety.

“At least 51 cases were filed between 29 July and 15 August 2018, charging 5,000 unnamed people for a range of offences under draconian laws inconsistent with international human rights law and standards, including an arbitrary ban on ‘unlawful assembly’,” Amnesty said.

But authorities have made no move to investigate or prosecute police for the use of excessive force and members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League for their role in the violence, it added.

Amnesty cites students and activists as stating that they are under intensive surveillance that is suppressing their ability to remark on protests on social media or to seek help for medical injuries over fears they may be detained.

The organisation also condemned the arrest of photographer Shahidul Alam, actress Quazi Nawshaba Ahmed and Dhaka café owner Faria Mahjabin under section 57 of the ICT Act, which it calls ‘vague, overly-broad and draconian’.

“The government has itself conceded that Section 57 of the ICT Act is flawed, and yet it persists with its use,” said Waraich.

“Shahidul Alam, Quazi Nawshaba Ahmed, Faria Mahjabin and all of the students who were arrested solely for peacefully exercising their human rights are prisoners of conscience. They must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

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