BANGLADESH: Government must stop crackdown on protesters

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that the Government of Bangladesh has engaged its student wing, the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), to unleash violence against the demonstrators. Several students have informed the AHRC that the BCL activists were identifying demonstration participants living in the University of Dhaka dormitories from Sunday night onwards. The BCL activists allegedly confined the protestors in the students’ dormitories. They physically assaulted them as punishment for raising their voices against the incumbent regime. Numerous male and female students were injured with cut-wounds with limited or no access to medical treatment. Protesters were injured by the Police with rubber bullets and tear gas until 10 April 2018. Needless to say that the victims are in fear of further police harassment.

Bangladesh Government’s policy of reserving a 56 per cent quota for recruiting public employment has already earned a bad reputation among public job-aspirants. The breakdown of the quota shows that the successors of freedom-fighters represented by children and grandchildren is 30 percent; districts 10 percent; women 10 percent; ethnic minorities 5 percent and physically challenged persons 1 percent.

The quota policy has long been criticised for politicising public institutions with subservient manpower and preventing merit access to serve the nation. Critics accuse the incumbent Government of abusing the quota. It is done by exploiting public emotion and respect for the freedom fighters. They are citizens who risked their lives in the 1971 War of Independence against Pakistani military forces.

The students of the University of Dhaka launched protests against the existing quota systems. Police led a baton charge against the protesters’ peaceful demonstration at the University’s campus on Sunday, 8 April 2018. Tear gas, rubber bullets and water-cannons were used against the protesters. Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the student wing of the ruling party Bangladesh Awami League (BAL), joined the Police to attack the protesters. This took place in the late evening and early hours of Sunday and Monday. The joint crackdown by the Police and the ruling party’s student wing, have caused injuries to many male and female Dhaka students while their exact figure could not be determined due to the situation on the ground. The police arbitrarily detained approximately a hundred students. Many were released on condition that they will never participate in similar protests in the future.

The latest protests, started on 7 April 2018, were triggered at a time when Bangladesh’s number of unemployed increased by 80,000 from 2016 to 2017. This statistical information was released by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics on 20 March 2018. Protesters have been demanding that the quota be reduced to 10 percent. The protests continue in other public and private universities across Bangladesh while the AHRC releases this statement.

In the last two days, students from other Universities across the country have started protests for the same demands. The Law-Enforcement Agencies have allegedly been using vicious force against the protesters. A crackdown on the Protestors by the Bangladesh Government must stop immediately. They must also stop attacking student-demonstrators who are peacefully demanding reforms of the existing quota systems in public employment. Rights to freedom of assembly and association cannot be consistently denied by the Government of Bangladesh.