What began as a series of protests demanding safer roads amid the deaths of two students who died in a road accident in Bangladesh last week has taken a violent turn, reportedly resulting in many student deaths and sexual assaults from pro-government organizations and police over the weekend.
Shaheed Ramiz Uddin School and College students Diya Khanam Mim and Abdul Karim Rajib died and several others were injured when a bus from the Jabal-e-Noor Paribahan transportation service rammed into a group of high school students on July 29 on Dhaka Airport Road.
News of the teenagers’ deaths immediately went viral on social media, sparking outrage against the government. Protesters, comprised mostly of students, have since converged in the capital of Dhaka, blocking major intersections daily.
Students as young as 13 reportedly blocked roadways, checking whether cars and buses had valid licenses and if they were in a safe condition to be on the road.
On Saturday, day seven of the protest, around 1,000 students from Tongi Government College, Safiuddin Sarkar Academy School and College, Gazipur Government Technical School and College, Shahjuddin School and College, Gazipur Government Technical School and College, Tongi Pilot Girls School and College, Gazipur City College, Rajuk Uttara Model College, Milestone School and College had joined the calls for justice and road improvements.
By afternoon, the protest escalated into violence in which the Bangladesh police and members of the pro-government student group “CHATRA LEAGUE” (Student Wing of the ruling Party of Bangladesh Awami League) were accused of employing brutal violence against the protesting students.
According to Agence France-Presse, hundreds of students were hurt during the clash which involved riot police firing rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators.
Despite video evidence of the violent dispersal, local police have since denied hurting the protesters.
“It’s not true. Nothing happened at Jigatola,” Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, social media posts have reported of various acts of violence in addition to the 115 students who were severely injured. Bangladeshi netizens have alleged that one boy had his eye gouged out, three girls of DCC are missing, and four students were shot dead near the science lab.
Students have also accused members of the Chatra League of victimizing women from City College and Badrunnesa college and raping the women in their office. Four girls are claimed to have been raped, killed and thrown away at a lake in Jhigatola while a small group of girls from Badrunnesa college were beaten at Shaheed Minar.
While Awami League Office Secretary Abdus Sobhan Golap has since denied that there are students being detained in the Awami League office, some parents and guardians of the missing students have decided to gather in front of the Awami League office in Dhanmondi, Dhaka Tribune
Within 24 hours, mobile internet services in the country had reportedly been shut down, according to Japan Times
citing local media.
Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) chairman Jahirul Haq said they received a “decision” from the government, without providing further details on the government order.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has since assured the students they would meet their demands but the students have remained skeptical of the government pulling through with the promise.
“We do not believe assurances. Our demands have to be met. We are giving the authorities a week to execute their promises. Our protest will continue till all our demands are met,” protester Al Miran said.