On July 3, 2018, police reportedly assaulted University of Dhaka (UD) professor Fahmidul Haq and detained anthropologist and retired UD professor Rahnuma Ahmed and former student leader Baki Billah during a demonstration outside the Jatiya Press Club in Dhaka.
The July 3 demonstration was organized by academics and other members of civil society to protest violent attacks on and arrests of activists involved in a movement calling for the reform of Bangladesh’s use of a quota system in connection with the country’s civil service exam. Soon after the demonstration began, police reportedly confiscated the group’s banner and detained Mr. Ahmed and Mr. Billah. Professor Haq reported that he was assaulted by a police officer after attempting to speak with Mr. Billah who was being held in a police van; the officer reportedly accused him of “intervening in their work” and “committing acts of anarchy.” Ahmed and Billar were both released later that day.
Authorities have stated that the demonstrators did not have permission to hold the event and that they had been requested to leave. On July 4, UD students and teachers held a protest demanding an investigation into the police’s handling of the demonstration.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about detention and the use of violent force by police in response to a nonviolent demonstration — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a party. State authorities have a responsibility not to restrict public demonstrations, so long as they are peaceful and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and undermine democratic society generally.