Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina vowed Wednesday that the killers of a Dhaka engineering college undergraduate would face the “maximum punishment,” as students across Bangladesh protested for a third day.
Thirteen suspects, including 10 members of her party’s youth wing – all students at the same campus – have been arrested in connection with the beating death of Abrar Fahad, 21, a student at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). His body was discovered there on Monday morning.
No matter their political affiliation, none of those who took part in Fahad’s killing would be spared, the prime minister said in a nationally televised press conference.
“He was only 21 years old – a brilliant student,” Hasina said, expressing sympathy for Fahad’s parents.
“It is immaterial to me to judge which party an offender belonged to – they are merely criminals … I do not consider whether they belonged to Chhatra League,” Hasina said.
She was referring to the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the youth wing of her Awami League party.
“Each of the culprits is to be given maximum punishment,” she said. “I will not consider which party they belong to.”
“I ask the law enforcing agencies to find where (student leaders) have been operating empires like landlords,” she said. “We need to find those who unleashed ruffianism.”
Hasina instructed law enforcing agencies to search all dormitories at all educational institutions across the country to determine if criminals were posing as students. Fahad lived in BUET’s Sher-e-Bangla residential hall.
Police arrested the 13 suspects after viewing CCTV footage at the university, Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Masudur Rahman told BenarNews.
On Tuesday, a court remanded the suspects to five more days of police custody for additional questioning.
Friends of Fahad allege that a group of BCL members called him to their room on Sunday to discuss comments he had posted on Facebook regarding a water agreement signed during a trip by Hasina to India that ended over the weekend.
The students allegedly beat Fahad for hours before leaving his body on a staircase on campus. It was discovered around 3 a.m. Monday, police said.
“One of them said he should be beaten for two more hours,” Ahmed Ahnaf, who said he witnessed the beating, told students attending the third day of protests on the campus.
Fahad’s Facebook post stated: “In 1947, there was no port in the Southwestern part of the country. To save the country from potential famine, the then [East Pakistan] government asked for permission to use Kolkata port for six months. But the Dada [India] suggested we find our own way so the Mongla port was opened for use.”
“But the irony of fate is that India now begs to use the Mongla port. … We give 0.15 million cubic meters of water without return to a country where one state does not give water to another,” he wrote, referring to the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka that fought over sharing water from the Kaveri River.
Since Fahad’s death, BUET students have called for a ban on political activities on campus – a request questioned by Hasina who pointed out that such activities were pivotal in the creation of Bangladesh.
“I come to this stage after engaging in student politics, so how I can ban it? ... Those who talk of a ban talk like military dictators,” she said.
Shantanu Majumder, a political science teacher at Dhaka University, said he expected Bangladeshis to support Hasina’s announcement.
“Through her tough stance against violence, the student leaders will get a strong message that lawless behavior in the pretext of student politics is over,” Majumder told BenarNews. “But violence at educational institutions will not end unless the police and the judiciary perform their roles.”
Meanwhile, the United Nations office in Dhaka issued a statement on Wednesday condemning Fahad’s slaying.
“The U.N. deplores the killing of a young BUET student, allegedly for freely expressing his views. Campus violence in Bangladesh has over the years affected and claimed too many lives, with apparent impunity for those bearing responsibility,” it said.