Bangladeshi security forces used excessive force against peaceful protesters participating in a national day-long strike on Tuesday, Amnesty International said today.
Reports from Dhaka and other cities suggest that members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and other police personnel attacked peaceful demonstrators with batons in over a dozen raids.
Witnesses and local observers told Amnesty International that more than 100 people were injured during the attacks.
"The Bangladeshi government should immediately investigate these attacks by security forces on peaceful demonstrators and ensure that any people hurt receive justice and appropriate compensation,” said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Bangladesh researcher.
“The RAB has a history of using excessive, sometimes even lethal, force, and this incident demands an immediate and strong reaction from the authorities."
The national dawn to dusk strike was organized by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in protest at "misrule" by the Awami League led government, after the BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia was evicted from the home she lived in for nearly 40 years.
Home Minister Sahara Khatun warned the opposition that the government would "contain with an iron hand any kind of chaos in the name of hartal [strike]".
Khaleda Zia leased the house from the government after the assassination of her husband, ex-president, General Ziaur Rahman in a military coup in 1981. In 2009, after the Awami League government assumed power, the government said the lease was illegal.
According to the BNP over 1,000 party members and activists had been arrested in the run-up to Tuesday's general strike.
At least 30 people were reported to have been injured during one attack on Tuesday in the district of Narsingdi, 50 km north-east of Dhaka, when the RAB and police attacked around 1,000 protesters.
Among those injured was the former Narsingdi MP, Kahirul Kabir Khokon. He told Amnesty International that the march was peaceful and did not break any laws.
He said that police and RAB beat him repeatedly on his back causing him severe pain. He and another 19 people were injured and taken to hospital.
In Dhaka, police and RAB carried out raids on BNP marches in different parts of the city. They attacked people who were gathering in front of the BNP headquarters in Naya Paltan.
MP Nilufar Chowdhury Moni (BNP) told Amnesty International that she was with a group of other women demonstrators when the police and RAB beat them prior to arresting more than 15 women. While the detainees were being transported to a police station in a truck, women police officers started to beat them again.
Another BNP member of parliament, Ruhul Quddus Talukder Dulu told Amnesty International that he was leading a peaceful rally of around 600 BNP activists in Natore on 28 November when around 100 policemen fired tear gas at the rally and began to beat everyone in front of them. They beat people with truncheons on their head, hands, legs and back. Twenty five people were injured during this attack.
"Police began to beat me on my head. As I was shielding my head with my left arm, they began to beat me on my arm causing me severe pain and difficulty in using my arm," said Ruhul Quddus Talukder Dulu
"The government of Bangladesh must issue strict orders to the security forces to comply with their obligations to exercise restraint and avoid the use of excessive force against demonstrators," said Abbas Faiz.
"The authorities must also ensure that all the detainees have access to a lawyer of their own choice, are allowed family visits and receive any medical treatment they need. All detainees must be released unless they can be charged with a recognizable criminal offence."