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Students hold protest in solidarity with road safety demands in Bangladesh


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Yesterday afternoon, demonstrators gathered opposite the Bangladesh High Commission in solidarity with the ongoing student protests in Bangladesh.

The protest was organised by former student Wass alongside the Bangladeshi societies at Queen Mary University London, SOAS and Westminster.

The protests in Bangladesh erupted after two high school children were killed by a bus that was racing for passengers.

In response, students as young as 13, took to the streets of Dhaka on 29 July. Besides demonstrating and blocking traffic, they set up checkpoints to enforce traffic laws and check driving licences.

As the protests in Bangladesh escalated, the government responded with a heavy-handed crackdown.

Police used tear gas and live rounds against protesting students, while pro-government youth groups joined police in assaulting protesters and journalists.

3G and 4G services in Bangladesh as well as the hashtag #WeWantJustice, which students were using to share information, photos and videos, were also allegedly blocked in order to stop students from organising via social media.

Speaking to TNS, organiser Wass said:

"We are not here for a political agenda. I'll tell you why there's so many things going wrong in Bangladesh. When the BNP [the current opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party] come into power, the Awami League [the current ruling party] will protest, and then they will fight against each other, and nothing will be done.

"When the Awami League come into power, the BNP will protest, and nothing will be done... nothing will be done in the Parliament, nothing will be done on the road, nothing will be done about road safety unless these political parties wake up and understand basic human rights."

Protesters made this point repeatedly, chanting "We are students for the students" throughout the protest.

Promi, a university graduate who attended the protest, said:

"This protest was organised by British Bangladeshi youth, consisting of the combined efforts of different University Bangla Societies and graduates who want to help on a humanitarian level."

She criticised political actors who tried to use the event and its surrounding media presence (allegedly including a Channel 4 news crew) to further their agenda, saying:

"Our platform will not be used to further right wing propaganda or fulfil a nationalistic agenda. Our voices will not be used by Channel 4 to propagate a generational tension amongst ethnic groups. We are the youth and we want to show solidarity."

Nonetheless, protesters welcomed Syed, a member of Unite London & Eastern Young Members Committee, when he delivered a message of solidarity from the union's committee calling on "all democratic and progressive forces to stand in solidarity with young protestors in Bangladesh."

Protesters also condemned the Bangladeshi government's censorship of the protests, as well as the arrest of prominent activist and photojournalist Shahidul Alam.

Shahidul had been arrested for "provocative" Facebook comments shortly after giving an interview to Al-Jazeera on the protests.

Speaking about Bangladesh's censorship, Promi said:

"My uncle is a satirist/cartoonist/illustrator who had to flee the country or face jail (or worse). Several Hindu gay rights bloggers have been murdered in their own homes."

"The current government's censorship is less violent but still a major breach of freedom of speech.

"I think it is horrendous and it is yet another human right they are violating. It is a sign of fear of social change, it is a fear response to a paradigm shift, and that it shows whatever the students are doing is working. The blocking of the hashtag is a visible silencing of youth."

The protest remained peaceful throughout, and protesters were careful not to block traffic, instead standing on the edge of the road and in the middle of a traffic divider with their placards. 

Eventually, the protesters dispersed of their own accord. 

Images and videos courtesy of Robert Liow 

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