Bangladesh Students Defy Protest Ban

Photo taken at the scene..
Three days of violent student demonstrations drove Army soldiers from a university campus in Bangladesh Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007.

Government officials ordered troops to leave the Dhaka University campus, where they had been stationed since January. The government declared a state of emergency in January, suspended elections, stationed soldiers on campuses throughout the country and decreed and end to many civil liberties.

The emergency laws ban all demonstrations, but that did not prevent thousands of students from protesting this week. The demonstrations began after a group of soldiers quartered at Dhaka University beat up some students during a soccer match Monday, according to press accounts.

The clash between the soldiers and students led to three days of violent protests in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Cars were burned, shops damaged and at least one military vehicle was turned over and torched by demonstrators. The Agence France Presse wire service reported one person was killed and the Associated Press reported 150 were injured. To put that into perspective, recent flooding has left about 650 people dead in Dhaka. Bangladesh has a population of 147 million, which is about half the population of the United States.

Five students were injured by the soldiers early Monday, according to the AP. The attack led to street protests by Dhaka University students and the demonstrations were joined by Dhaka University staffers and students from other nearby campuses.

Government and Army officials said they would investigate the incident and take disciplinary action against the soldiers responsible for the attack.

However, a 2006 U.S. State Department human rights report on Bangladesh indicates many abuses by the military, government authority and political parties go un-investigated and unpunished.

"While the law prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, security forces, the RAB (the Rapid Action Battalion police force), and police routinely employed severe treatment as well as psychological abuse during arrests and interrogations. Abuse consisted of threats and beatings and the use of electric shock. According to human rights organizations, security forces tortured 45 persons during the year, 14 of whom died... The government rarely charged, convicted, or punished those responsible, and a climate of impunity allowed such police abuses to continue."

Bangladesh has been under a state of emergency since Jan. 11, 2007, when the country's leader, President Iajuddin Ahmed, cancelled scheduled elections and decreed a state of emergency for the country. His actions came after opposition parties staged violent protests calling for fair elections.

The media is heavily restricted and censored in Bangladesh. According to the U.S. State Department's report the toll on press freedoms in 2006 included " journalist was killed, 183 journalists were injured, six were arrested, 53 were assaulted, and 114 were threatened during the year."