On January 16, 2021, student protesters clashed with teachers and police on the Sylhet Shahjalal University of Science and Technology campus after confining the vice-chancellor to an administrative building. The clashes resulted in injuries to students, teachers, and police officers.
A number of students began protesting outside of Vice Chancellor Farid Uddin Ahmed’s on-campus residence on the evening of January 13 demanding the removal of their residence hall’s provost, Assistant Professor Zafrin Ahmed Liza. Students allege that they called the provost earlier that night to express concerns over the behavior of the hall’s security guards, and that the provost was dismissive of their concerns. Protesting students met with the VC on January 14 to discuss their concerns and demands. On January 15, SUST authorities announced the removal of Ahmed as provost.
On January 16, student protesters, claiming that their demands had not been fully satisfied by the removal of Ahmed, surrounded a campus building where the VC was located, confining him there. The university administration called police to the building after students briefly clashed with teachers who were attempting to free the VC. According to reports, police arrived on campus and removed the VC from the building after charging at protesting students with batons, firing rubber bullets, and throwing sound grenades into the crowd, injuring students and teachers. Following the protest, the university’s administration announced that classes would be suspended indefinitely.
Police filed a case against over 200 “unnamed” students connected to the clash, charging them with attempting to steal government-issued firearms and throwing bricks at law enforcement, among other charges. The Deputy Commissioner of the Sylhet Metropolitan Police stated that the case was a formality and not meant to intimidate the students.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during an on-campus protest. While students have rights to freedom of expression and freedom of expression, they must exercise these rights peacefully and responsibly, refraining from physical violence or other actions that may harm members of the higher education community. Likewise, while state authorities have a responsibility to ensure safety and security, they must exercise restraint and refrain from disproportionate responses and actions that endanger members of the higher education community.
UPDATE: On February 12, 2022, SUST students called off their protests after Bangladesh’s Minister of Education Dipu Moni announced that the university’s VC was to be replaced.