By SM Najmus Sakib
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) - Bangladesh's capital Dhaka has been facing huge protests in recent days following the killing of a university student allegedly by members of a student branch of the country's ruling Awami League party.
Abrar Fahad, a second-year student at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), was brutally beaten to death by around a dozen students on Sunday midnight in a room of the university's dormitory.
Abrar, 21, was supposedly the latest victim of the obstreperous student wing of the ruling party, which has been accused of killing dozens of students -- mostly due to their expression of anti-government views.
Thousands of protesters -- mainly university students -- across the country including in the capital Dhaka assert that the death was caused by the absence of "space for free speech" in the country as well as university campuses.
- 'torture cells in every dormitory'
Requesting not to be named, another student at BUET told Anadolu Agency that torture in the university's dormitories was nothing new.
Speaking at the BUET campus he claimed that there are "torture cells" in "every dormitory of the university" and all of the cells are run by Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) -- student wing of the ruling party.
"These rooms [torcher cells] have been using by BCL members to torture those suspected of speaking against or criticizing any act of the government," he said.
Police have arrested over a dozen suspects -- including the general secretary of the university branch of BCL -- following the murder, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina vowed to punish perpetrators without regarding their political background.
"We demand justice for Abrar, and are protesting the incident to reinstate a healthy environment on campus and ban politics among students in the university," the BUET student added.
Abrar was killed hours after he criticized the government for signing deals with neighboring India during Hasina's visit to New Delhi last weekend.
According to local media report, the perpetrators locked him in a room, suspecting him to be a member of an opposition party, however, police found no evidence about his political affiliation with any party.
The victim’s family also denied that Abrar -- an engineering student -- was involved in any kind of politics.
His cousin, Johirul Islam told Anadolu Agency that Abrar's father and uncles were active followers of ruling party and that the victim had no connection with any political party.
"He sometimes went to Tablighi Jamaat's [a non-political global missionary movement that focuses on practicing Islam] religious events as he was a religiously faithful, and he didn’t write anything harmful or against the government, he loved his country most and wished to work for his country. But, we don’t why he was killed," the victim’s brother said in a choked voice.
On behalf of the victim’s family, he demanded justice for Abrar and punishment for those involved in the brutal killing so such an incident would not be repeated.
- 54 students reportedly killed by BCL in 5 years
After the brutal killing and student protests calling for an end to politics on campus, the BUET Teachers’ Association on Wednesday announced that teachers’ politics would be barred on university grounds.
In a press conference on the same day, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina briefed reporters on her recent India visit. She also underlined that those involved in killing Abrar would serve maximum punishment, and that her government was committed to upholding the rule of law.
This was not the first time that the student branch of the ruling party made headlines with such incidents.
According to local daily Prothomalo, at least 54 students were killed by the Awami League's student members between 2009 and 2014, while most of the killers still remain unpunished or out of touch.
The organization's central president and general secretary were removed earlier this month by premier Hasina, who is also the leader of the ruling party, after the two leaders were found to be involved in various illegal activities including extortion.
Asif Nazrul, a law professor at Dhaka University, told Anadolu Agency that Abrar's death was not an "isolated incident". "There are torture cells in most of the country’s academic institutions led by the BCL to torture those who exercise free speech and criticize the government," he said.
"Is there any law that allows the BCL to question anyone, beat or kill them or check personal devices like cell phones and laptops for holding opposite opinions or criticizing the government? And, no, there is no such law that allows the BCL to police people," he said.
"There are laws, police and courts in this country, but the wrongdoing BCL members never get punished as the government is sustaining on the shoulder of such forces…in all mass protest in the country whether it was political or non-political, BCL force repressed and crackdown on movements to stop," he added.
He suggested university authorities take control of dormitories and campuses in order to avoid such incidents in the future.
- 13 arrested so far
Al Nahian Khan Joy, acting-president of the BCL, told Anadolu Agency that all members of his organization were warned against any wrongdoings in university campuses.
"We condemned the brutal killing of Abrar, and immediately expelled the involved BCL members after a primary probe into the incident," he said.
Underlining that no wrongdoers would be given a place in his organization, and that this message was sent to all unit leaders, he claimed that conditions on university campuses are currently "much better" than previous years.
However, Joy claimed there was no threat to free speech or criticizing the government.
The BUET Vice-chancellor briefly spoke to protesting students on Tuesday night to assure them that university authorities were working to serve justice.
"Police arrested 13 students after examining CCTV footage," Hasan Arafat, the additional deputy commissioner of the police detective branch, told Anadolu Agency. He said police seized all relevant documents from the room where Abrar was killed.
The general secretary of BCL's BUET unit was among the detainees. Local media reported that all 13 were involved in Awami League politics. The autopsy report said Abrar died of internal bleeding and excessive pain.
Arafat added that police were working with the utmost priority for the punishment of those involved in the murder, and would soon hand over the charge sheet to court.