Student leader joins growing list detained in Bangladesh

Shafiqul ALAM
Alam was arrested after he criticised the Bangladesh government's handling of major student rallies

Bangladesh police said they had arrested a prominent student leader Wednesday, in the latest detention of government critics following protests that brought Dhaka to a standstill earlier this month.

Authorities have taken social media activists, journalists and students into custody in the days since the demonstrations were violently dispersed.

Lutfun Nahar Luma was arrested at her grandfather's home in the north of Bangladesh where she had been "hiding" since the end of the protests, said Sirajganj district police chief Abdur Razzaque.

"There is an allegation that she has conspired against the government," Razzaque told AFP.

Dhaka and other cities were paralysed for more than a week as tens of thousands of young students students blocked the streets to demand road safety measures, following the death of two teenage pedestrians in a bus accident.

About 1,000 people were injured in the unrest when the protests were broken up.

Numerous people have been arrested since, including renowned photographer Shahidul Alam, a television actress and the head of an online media outlet.

Authorities have also this month arrested at least seven leaders of a series of demonstrations earlier this year as police widened their dragnet.

Luma was a leader of the April protests, which called for an end to discriminatory recruitment policies in the Bangladeshi civil service.

Bangladesh police have announced the arrest of at least 12 online activists accused of spreading rumours but not given a figure for the overall number of detentions.

Nazmul Islam, a senior officer of the unit, said on Monday that they were looking for 50-60 people accused of spreading rumours during the protests.

"All of them are hiding. Some of them are outside the country," Islam told AFP.

Famed writer Pinaki Bhattacharya is among the high-profile government critics arrested in the crackdown and has not been seen since intelligence officers asked him to report to their headquarters on August 5, his father told AFP.

In recent years Bhattacharya, a doctor and former student leader during pro-democracy protests in 1990, has been an outspoken opponent of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said arrests targeting student protesters and journalists have created "an atmosphere of fear, putting a serious chill on free speech".

"Authorities should halt arbitrary arrests, prosecute those involved in violent attacks, and immediately and unconditionally release people it has thrown in jail,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for the rights group.