DHAKA: (Note: In light of reports that protesting students in Dhaka were met with tear gas and excessive force by security forces and that Chhatra League members attacked students and also journalists covering the protests, we are reproducing this bold and courageous editorial by The Daily Star)

Victims hounded: Go after the attackers, not the students

It is extremely disconcerting to witness that 22 university students have been placed on two-day remands in cases filed over “vandalism and attacks on police.” Numerous cases have been filed in different police stations where unknown students have been made the accused. But, what we witnessed in the last few days was that students and journalists were themselves the object of attacks, by activists clearly opposed to the road safety movement. The official claim has been that certain elements had infiltrated the protests over road safety and they were the ones who carried out the attacks. The role of the police, who many journalists and witnesses say were nearby when the attacks happened, remains unexplained. Why were the law enforcers unwilling to stop the helmeted and armed men who attacked the students and the journos? And why has there been no headway in identifying who this supposed external elements are? Instead, we see law enforcers going after these students—the victims are now being hounded again.

The legitimacy of the demands of the protesters is beyond question, and the government had rightly accepted them. Since the start of Traffic Week by the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, the number of people seeking licences and fitness certificates at the BRTA has reportedly increased one and a half time. There are around 20 lakh unregistered vehicles on the road.

It is a gross miscarriage of justice that students and journalists are having to pay the price for the violence perpetrated by these men. It is the responsibility of the police to find out who the attackers were. We also hope that the police clarify why it was silent when the attacks were made. It is a pity that university students have been detained and allegedly tortured. We demand that the due process of the law prevails and the police go after the attackers, instead of letting them go scot free despite attacking students and the media.

Why are universities under attack?: Uphold the sanctity of the places of education

We deplore the heavy-handed police actions on Monday on the students of several private universities who were protesting against attacks on their peers. Why did police, supplemented by armed goons, fire rubber bullets and tear gas into campuses filled with students leaving scores injured? Can anyone not exercise his or her constitutional right to protest?

The students of several private universities were protesting inside or around their campuses. They clearly did not pose any threat to public safety. We understand the police were not called in by the authorities of those universities either. In fact, one university opened its gate for everyone under attack to take refuge. We, therefore, wonder why such heavy police presence was warranted in a sacrosanct place like a university campus in the first place. What's more disturbing is the fact that police, reportedly, had sought “assistance” from a pro-ruling party youth organisation to deal with the protests.

We believe the rights to protest and expression are an integral part of democracy. We cannot claim to be a democratic country when citizens are denied a minimum space for expressing their dissent. By handling almost every youth movement, regardless of its legitimacy and rationality, in a ham-fisted manner, the government runs the risk of alienating our young generation.