Undergraduate’s Slaying Provokes Student Protests Across Bangladesh

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
191008-BD-protests-1000.jpg Students yell slogans demanding justice during a protest at Dhaka University after the killing of engineering student Abrar Fahad, Oct. 7, 2019.

Thousands of university students paralyzed Bangladesh’s most prestigious engineering school Tuesday during a second day of protests over the on-campus slaying of an undergraduate, while police have arrested 10 youth-wing members of the ruling party in connection with the killing.

Students staged rallies across the country, including in the capital Dhaka and the northern city of Rajshahi, after police found the body of 21-year-old Abrar Fahad, a student at the Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology (BUET), who was allegedly slain in a dormitory hall there on Sunday after he had criticized the government via social media.

“We want the killers’ expulsion from the university and a ban on student politics on the BUET campus,” Sajjad Hossain, one of the protester, told BenarNews.

On Tuesday, students forced a shutdown of academic and administrative activities at BUET as they rallied for hours outside the offices of Vice Chancellor Saiful Islam. Apart from demanding justice for Fahad, they called for a ban on campus-wide political activities.

“All students are united. Abrar was an innocent student with no political record. His transgression was he gave a Facebook post on the recently signed Bangladesh-India agreements,” Shihab Uddin, a BUET student, told BenarNews, referring to a slew of memoranda signed by the governments of the two countries when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited New Delhi during the past weekend.

“We will not allow any academic and administrative activities unless our … demands are met,” he said.

Police have arrested 10 members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the youth wing of Hasina’s Awami League party and are questioning them about Fahad’s killing, officials said. On Tuesday, a court remanded the 10 to five more days of police custody for further questioning.

Investigators have not yet revealed the motive behind the killing or publicly said whether it was linked in any way to his critical comments on Facebook against the government.

Fahad’s Facebook comments has been shared at least 60,000 times.

During Tuesday’s protests at BUET, students chanted slogans alleging that some BCL members had set up a room where students with dissenting views were often subjected to physical abuse.

The Chhatra League has previously faced allegations of using torture and extortion against students. Eight of its members were among 21 indicted for the December 2012 death of Biswajit Das, a 24-year-old tailor in Dhaka whose daylight killing, which was captured live on television, appalled the nation.

Fahad’s death has cast a spotlight on a culture of violence at the nation’s public universities, where new students often are forced to attend meetings and rallies just to be able to stay in the dormitories, according to BBC News.

“Beating and bullying for having different views or defying the order of the leaders is common inside the universities,” BBC analyst Mir Sabbi said, citing pictures showing BCL supporters attacking students who were protesting at Rajshahi University in 2018 over road safety.

“Political parties have been using their student wings as their muscle for a long time,” he said. “Although the parties are not allowed to have official student wings, their existence is undeniable.”

Political commentator Nizam Uddin Ahmed said BCL had projected a bad reputation for Sheikh Hasina.

“The common people are fed up with the criminal activities of the BCL” Ahmed told BenarNews. “These sort of criminal activities by BUET students were once unthinkable.”

Vice chancellor supports students’ demands

On Tuesday, students poured onto the BUET campus and took positions in front of the vice chancellor’s office, effectively confining him for the whole day.

But the vice chancellor, Saiful Islam, appeared in front of the students in evening.

“In principle, I support all of your demands,” he said. “I have to talk to the honorable minister. I have limitations.”

The students chanted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” as Islam left. But their leaders vowed to go on with their protests, unless their demands are met.

Law minister Anisul Huq on Tuesday vowed to bring Fahad’s killers to justice.

“The killers must get punishment no matter what party they belonged to,” he said.


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