DHAKA: Police in Bangladesh’s capital fired tear gas and rubber bullets Monday to disperse hundreds of demonstrating students, while a prominent human rights group demanded the release of an activist arrested for criticizing the government during more than a week of protests.
Shahidul Alam, a well-known photographer, and activist was arrested Sunday by plain-clothed police after giving a television interview in which he said prime minister Sheikh Hasina had no credibility and was using “brute force” to cling to power.
A court in Dhaka ordered him to be confined for seven days for questioning on charges of spreading false information and propaganda against the government.
Amnesty International called for Alam’s immediate release, with deputy South Asia director Omar Waraich saying in a statement that the arrest “marks a dangerous escalation of a crackdown by the government.”
The traffic chaos of the past week began easing on Monday, as immense demonstrations gave way to sporadic protests, though hundreds of students clashed with police in Dhaka’s Bashundhara area where some private universities are located. Police fired rubber bullets and protesters said at least 40 people, mostly students, were injured.
Elsewhere, police used tear gas against protesters at Dhaka’s East-West University and students marched through the Dhaka University campus chanting anti-government slogans and demanding justice.
The protests, set off by the deaths of two students killed by speeding buses, grew last week to tens of thousands of people, becoming a major embarrassment to Hasina’s government, which faces a general election later this year.
On Monday, Bangladesh’s Cabinet endorsed a draft law that would increase the maximum punishment for an accident leading to death to five years in jail, up from the current three years.
Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Shafiul Alam said the bill will be submitted to Parliament soon for passage.
The student protesters have demanded tougher punishment for offenses involving road accidents.
On Sunday, pro-government youth groups attacked protesters and at least five journalists, including an Associated Press photographer.
Hasina’s party is blaming the main opposition party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, and its main ally Jamaat-e-Islami, saying they are manipulating student anger to foment trouble.
Authorities have warned of tougher measures if the protests are used to create chaos.