Two British MPs -- Rushanara Ali and Rupa Huq -- have urged Bangladesh authorities to protect people's right to peaceful protest and free speech.
“Incidents of unlawful or disproportionate violence or action against protesters and journalists must be brought to an end. The right to peaceful protest and free speech should be protected, and the perpetrators of violence should be held to account,” British Labour Party MP of Bangladeshi origin Rushanara Ali said in a statement yesterday.
She said it was deeply concerning that following student protests seeking better road safety in Dhaka after the deaths of two teenagers on a street in the capital on July 29, there have been violent clashes leading to many fatalities.
Police arrested over 50 people, including students, on charges of vandalism and spreading rumours. However, many others, including alleged ruling party men, who attacked students or journalists have not been brought to book.
The two MPs also expressed concern over the safety and wellbeing of globally-acclaimed photojournalist Shahidul Alam, urging fair treatment and his immediate release.
Shahidul was picked up by plainclothes men on August 5 hours after he gave an interview to a foreign news agency supporting the protests. After a seven-day remand in a case filed against him under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, he was sent to jail on August 12.
While Rushanara said she welcomes Bangladesh government's recognition of the need to improve road safety, she, however, was worried over the arrest of Shahidul, who is well-known in the wider British Bangladeshi community for his photography, having held numerous exhibitions in the UK.
“We are very concerned about his safety and wellbeing, and we urge the government of Bangladesh to recognise his right to free speech and fair treatment,” she said.
Rupa Huq, another British Labour Party MP, has written to the Bangladesh High Commission and UK Foreign Office, urging Bangladesh authorities to drop the case against Shahidul.
“Shahidul Alam is the latest victim in a long series of extreme dubious arrests made in Bangladesh, and his family members are terrified about what will happen to him next,” she said.
Alam's treatment is clearly a breach of human rights and denial of the country's constitutional right to freedom of expression, she wrote in the letter posted on her Twitter account.
“Of most concern, to his family, friends, fellow protesters in Bangladesh and abroad, and myself, is the state in which he appeared in the courtroom. Alam had evidently been beaten severely and could hardly walk. He is currently in jail and in all probability being treated no better.
“Please exercise the power you wield to urge the authorities in Bangladesh to drop the case against him,” she further wrote, adding, “please also push for him to be allowed access to medical treatment and legal representation, which he has thus far not had at a magistrate's court but needs as he approaches the high court hearing.”