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BD detains online activists over protest ‘rumours’

Updated August 10, 2018

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DHAKA: Bangladesh police have arrested at least 12 social media activists accused of spreading rumours on Facebook during student protests last week that left about 1,000 people injured, a top official said on Thursday.

Dhaka and other cities were this month paralysed by more than a week of protests that saw tens of thousands of school and college students take to the streets.

Rights groups have criticised the police response to the demonstrations, including the high-profile arrests of a renowned photographer, television actress and senior journalist during the protests.

Authorities have investigated about 1,000 Facebook accounts they claim incited violence during the unrest, said Dhaka police deputy commissioner Nazmul Islam. “We have so far arrested 12 people for spreading rumours. Hopefully in the next couple of days we will arrest more people,” he said.

Some of those arrested had claimed four girls were raped and two protesters were killed at the height of the demonstrations on Saturday, Islam added.

Bangladesh’s internet law allows the regulation of social media and internet comment but rights groups accused the government of using the internet laws to crackdown on legitimate and peaceful dissent.

Award-winning photographer Shahidul Alam, television actor Kazi Naushaba and the chief executive of an online news outlet were among those who were arrested and charged under the internet laws during the unrest.

Islam said rumours spread online had led to the “destruction of 382 public vehicles, including eight police vehicles. Among those three police vehicles were burnt.” “Almost 1,000 people were wounded, 45 police were also wounded seriously,” he added.

Protesters across Bangladesh demanded better safety on Bangladesh’s chaotic, corruption-riddled transport network after a bus killed two teens in late July.

Analysts said the protests reflected simmering discontent among Bangladeshi youth and highlighted broader issues including the absence of public accountability and the rule of law.

Most protesters had returned to school this week amid fears of further government repression if the unrest continued, according to student activists.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2018