Like any other teenage student, Tarek Aziz would attend classes or hang out with friends on the campus. He would also go to a movie or play cricket or football in his spare time.
But his world turned upside down two years ago.
After the student of Dhaka Polytechnic Institute was accused in nine cases on charges of vandalism and spreading rumour over the 2018 Road Safety Movement, he languished in jail for 10 long months.
After he came out on bail, he had to spend a significant amount of his time and energy for court appearances; he needed to turn up before court for attending hearing at least nine times every month before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Going through this trauma, he now hardly finds it possible to concentrate on studies or live the life as he used to.
Besides, his family has been devastated, arranging money to continue the legal battle. Tarek’s father Khorshed Alam, an expatriate in Oman, has already spent more than Tk 2 lakh to pay lawyers and meet other court-related expenses.
“I need to spend at least Tk 500 every time I go to the court in Old Dhaka from our Tejkunipara home for travelling, food and other expenses,” Tarek, now 21, told The Daily Star recently.
“We’re too tired … it all happened after I was framed by police. The cases are not only hampering my studies but also are throwing my future into uncertainty,” he said.
He expressed frustration as investigation in any of the nine cases — seven for vandalism and two for spreading rumour — has been completed yet.
Tarek is not the only student suffering this way for taking to the street demanding safe roads two years ago.
With investigation in most cases, filed following the unprecedented road safety demonstration in 2018, tangled up, the future of many other students seem bleak.
Investigation officers are not sure when the probes would be over, adding to the frustration of the students and their family members.
After two students of the capital’s Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College were killed by a speeding bus on Airport Road on this day in 2018, protests spread like wildfire across the capital and elsewhere in the country.
During and after the protest, more than 100 people, mostly students of private universities and colleges, were rounded up in around 60 cases in the capital alone over “causing violence and spreading rumours”, according to Dhaka Metropolitan Police.
The cases were filed against several thousand unidentified students and young people for assaulting police, damaging government properties and obstructing law enforcers from discharging duties.
The accused included 22 private university students who were arrested during the demonstrations in July and August that year. Although they were released on bail later, they had to appear before court almost every month before the Covid-19 outbreak.
Most courts in the country are now holding virtual hearing to avoid coronavirus transmission.
The FIRs of cases filed by police in the city’s Badda and Bhatara mentioned the names of 32 accused, including the 22 students. Some of the accused students, however, said they did not even join the demonstration.
The rest of the students were picked up from Kotwali, Dhanmondi, Paltan, Shahbagh, Uttara, Ramna and New Market areas between August 4 and 6 that year.
Besides, 22 cases were filed under the then section 57 of the ICT act for “spreading rumours and sharing provocative posts” on social media centring the nationwide protest. Noted photographer Shahidul Alam was among the arrestees. He was later released.
Investigations in all these cases, except four, are yet to be completed.
FRUSTRATION GRIPS STUDENTS
Some of the accused students have completed their graduation and are now looking for jobs. They said the cases were affecting their further studies and job opportunities.
Tarek along with 11 others was picked up on September 5, 2018 by some plainclothes men. The Detective Branch of police produced them before a Dhaka court five days later, families claimed.
Police claimed to have recovered 12 sets of uniforms, 13 fake ID cards of different educational institutions, three laptops and some publications of Islami Chhatra Shibir from the possession of the detainees. They law enforcers claimed those were “collected for creating anarchy” during the movement.
“The allegations are all police lies. Those uniforms, fake IDs and other seized items were not ours. Police brought those from outside, kept in front of us and took our pictures with them,” said Tarek, whose father Khorshed was a local Awami League leader in Noakhali.
Police, however, rejected the allegation.
Pharmacy graduate Zahidul Haque Anik is one of the 22 students. He was picked up by police from in front of Southeast University’s campus in Banani right after he came out of his class on August 6 morning.
There was no protest or violence in the area at the time of his arrest. But he along with four other Southeast University students was taken to Badda Police Station at night and made accused in a case that mentioned they were picked up from Badda during violence at East West University.
“There is CCTV footage and it is proof that I was attending my classes that day. We are innocent,” Zahid told this correspondent on Monday.
Mushfiqur Rahman, another accused and a student of East West University, said, “We are worried about our future.”
Bhatara Sub-Inspector Hasan Masud, who is also the investigation officer of one of the cases, said he did not know when the probe would be over.
Asked whether they found any proof against any of the students, he said he would not say it before the investigation was over.
He also said the probe in the case remained halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Other officials investigating some of the other cases stated the same.