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Bangladesh: Bloggers Will Not Be Silenced

The Jagannath University of Dhaka, initiated in 1858, is one of the oldest public educational institutes of Bangladesh. Many people in the country cannot afford expensive private tuition and depend on these public educational institutes for their higher studies.

Recently on the prescription of World Bank the government has ventured to curtail subsidies in education by privatizing the public colleges and universities and Jagannath University has become one of their first experiments.

Student protests

Parvez Alam [bn] provides the background of the recent protests and demonstrations by the students of Jagannath University:

জগন্নাথ বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় শ্রেফ শুরু মাত্র, এরপরে দেশের প্রত্যেকটা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়রে ধরা হবে। একটা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের ক্ষেত্রে বাস্তবায়ন করতে পারলে বাকিগুলাও আস্তে আস্তে করে ফেলা হবে।

Jagannath University is just the start, gradually every public universities in the country will be affected. If they succeed to implement it here the others will follow.

On September 25, 2011, police cracked down on the students of Jagannath University as some of them resorted to vandalism during protests. Tough action was taken against students including mass arrests.

Activists from the Facebook group “Bloggers and Online Activists on National Interest” (জাতীয় স্বার্থে ব্লগার -অনলাইন একটিভিস্ট) [bn] condemned the police brutality and supported the 4 point demand and the protests of the students of the Jagannath University.

Asif Mohiuddin. Image courtesy Arfan Ahmed/Unmochon

Asif Mohiuddin. Image courtesy Arfan Ahmed/Unmochon

Among several bloggers, Asif Mohiuddin, 28, an IT specialist, wrote [bn] about this issue extensively and was one of the key organizers of the protests of the ‘Bloggers and Online Activists on National Interest’ forum on September 30. He signed off his post with this:

 

জয় আমাদের হবেই। আমরা আমদের শিক্ষাকে পণ্যে পরিণত হতে দেবো না। আমাদের শিক্ষা হোক সকলের জন্য।

We will win. We will not let education be a product. Let our education be (affordable) for everybody.

Asif Mohiuddin arrested

Police cracked down on the September 30 event too and arrested a number of students who were later released on bail. On October 1, 2011, news broke out in the blogs that Asif Mohiuddin had been arrested. Kowshik Ahmed reports [bn]:

গতকাল অনলাইন অনলাইন ব্লগার অ্যাক্টিভিস্ট গ্রুপের অন্যতম সংগঠক আসিফ মহিউদ্দীনের বাসায় ডিবি পুলিশ খুঁজতে যায়, না পেয়ে পরিবারের সদস্যদের কাছে তাকে থানায় রিপোর্ট করতে বলে। আজকে আসিফ মহিউদ্দীন তার বোনকে নিয়ে থানায় রিপোর্ট করলে, পুলিশ তাকে আটক করে। যারা কোনো গ্রহণযোগ্য কারণ দেখানো হয়নি, তবে শোনা যাচ্ছে তার মোবাইল কল ট্রাক করা হয়েছে।

Yesterday police from the Detective Branch went to the home of Asif Mohiuddin, one of the key organizers of ‘Bloggers and Online Activists on National Interest’, and he was absent. They told his family members that he should report to the police station immediately. Asif went to the police station today with his sisters and they detained him. No reason had been given for his arrest, but his phone calls are being tracked.
Poster for a protest demanding release of blogger Asif.

Poster for a protest demanding release of blogger Asif.

The blogosphere had exploded with reactions and everybody was demanding release of Asif. Arthohin wrote:

 

What did Asif do? Did he burn anyone’s property or create chaos or break the law? Well he broke the law for sure and that is why he was picked up by the state police. He wrote and questioned actions of the government and [the] government cannot take it. So that is [the] crime.

Voyal Agnipurush demanded that he should be arrested too so that there would be nobody available to protest government actions.

Kowshik provided regular updates of the situation and a protest gathering was called on the 2 October in the city demanding Asif's release.

Asif remained detained for the night and on October 2 news started to arrive that he soon may be released. Omi Rahman Pial informed [bn] that he was yet to be arrested officially but was detained for questioning.

The police eventually released Asif after 18 hours of detention but what angered the online community is the statements of the police and the way he was released.

According to BDNews24.com Asif had to submit a bond saying that he will not call rallies online on the Jagannath University movement issue in blogs or on Facebook. The police repeatedly advised him: “Don't write. You have a job, get married. No one's ever achieved anything by writing,” and other gems like “Freedom of speech, ethics — these things make no sense in life.” According to news one detective allegedly told him: “The state will see whether you are on its side or against it. If you're against it, you'll be struck down.”

Blogger and journalist Biplob Rahman questions [bn]:

এ অবস্থায় প্রশ্ন জাগে, দেশটা কী শেষ পর্যন্ত পুলিশী রাষ্ট্রে পরিনত হচ্ছে?

Question arises, is the country becoming a police state?

Kowshik [bn] opines:

সরকারী আমলাতন্ত্র সম্ভবত বিকল্প মিডিয়ার শক্তি সম্পর্কে অনভিজ্ঞ। আসিফ মহিউদ্দীন মাত্র একটা নাম – তবে ভার্চুয়াল অঙ্গনে এখন লাখো আসিফ মহিউদ্দিন সরব হয়ে আছেন

The government seems to be unaware of the power of the alternative media. Asif Mohiuddin is just one name – there are thousands of Asifs vocal in the virtual world.

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