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Road safety movement: A year on, protesters still not acquitted

  • Published at 01:07 am July 29th, 2019
web-BUP-student-road-accident-protest'-Mehedi hasan/dhaka tribune
Protesting students shout slogans demanding justice for Abrar Ahmed Chowdhury at Basundhara in Dhaka on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Although some students were remanded following the protests, investigators have still not been able to find any concrete evidence of the alleged crimes — despite nearly twelve months of investigation

Students arrested over the road safety movement, that had brought Bangladesh to a standstill for a week, a year ago, are still afraid of the cases pending against them, even after they were released after securing bail.

Police had filed around 50 cases in different police stations against the students for allegedly attacking the police, obstructing the police in performing their duty, vandalism, and sabotage.

However, the accused students, their parents, and lawyers claim that the cases filed are mostly politically motivated, and aimed to harass, and intimidate the protesters.

Although some students were remanded following the protests, investigators have still not been able to find any concrete evidence of the alleged crimes — despite nearly twelve months of investigation.

As a result, police are yet to file any charge sheet before the court in any of the cases. 

How the movement unfolded

On July 29 last year, two students of Kurmitola’s Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment School and College were killed, when a Jabal-e-Noor Paribahan bus crashed into them on a sidewalk.

Protesting the incident on the same day, school and college students took to the streets, demanding justice for the victims. The demonstration gained further momentum on August 4 when the protests gained support from university students.

However, on the same day, rumours spread that four students were supposedly beaten to death, one had his eyes gouged out, and four schoolgirls allegedly raped inside the Awami League president’s office in Dhanmondi. 

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Later, students locked horns with the police, and Awami League men when they tried to lay siege to the office.

The clash soon fuelled more protests by students of different universities, and there were further clashes between students and law enforcement.

Later, sabotage cases regarding the incidents were filed by the police. Soon after, several university students from the capital’s Dhanmondi, Banani, Bashundhara, and Banasree areas, were detained — of whom, 22 were students of different private universities.

Fourteen of them, on August 6, were shown accused in a case filed at Badda police station, while the remaining eight were named in a case filed with Bhatara police.

After spending two days in remand, and 12 days in prison, the detained students were granted bail before the Eid vacations.

Bailed, not acquitted

Despite bail, none of these 22 students have yet been acquitted.

Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Badda police Sub-Inspector Julhas Miah, and Bhatara police Sub-Inspector Hassan Masud — also the investigation officers of the cases — said they could not tell when these cases will be disposed of.

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Regarding the progress of the cases, both said, such cases "take some time" and that they were still investigating, but declined to go into the details.

Meanwhile, requesting anonymity, some police officials said that a probe against the students is currently underway, and no instructions have been given by the “higher-ups” regarding the charge framing against these students.

Cases’ withdrawal demanded

Jahanara Haque, mother of South East University student Anik, an accused in a case filed at Bhatara police station, said: “My son is innocent. He was not one of them [protesters]. My son broke down in tears after his arrest.”

She demanded that cases against all innocent students, including Anik, be withdrawn by the authorities so that their education, and future careers are not disrupted further.

"We have appeared before the court every month. We are moving around like criminals, even though we committed no crime," said Nur Mohammad, another student who was accused in a case filed with Badda police.

"We want the prime minister to address this issue, and exempt us from these cases so that we can move on with our lives," he pleaded.

Another student named Ayon, who was also named in another case, told Dhaka Tribune: “I was not involved in any of the crimes we have been accused of committing. We still do not know why we were arrested, or what our crime was.

"I was jailed, and now I am out on bail. I keep appearing in court day after day. Then why am I being harassed? Why is my family being harassed? I cannot find answers to these questions anywhere. When will this stop?”

Human rights activist Nur Khan Liton also called for withdrawal of the cases against the 22 students.

Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua, who represents the students, told Dhaka tribune that the timeframe set to file the charge sheet before the court was never maintained.

"It is like an old tradition now. We have been saying from the start, that these cases are nothing but harassment," he said. "Their demand for safe roads was logical, and this is why it is taking so long to file the charge sheet.”