Students of Bangladesh facing fear of persecution?
Nafiz Ahmed, Law student at North South University : After the end of the recent protest and the beginning of the crackdown by the police, students of Dhaka city are facing quite a troublesome situation. Though it is slowly fading away, there is a fear of persecution among the students. It is not limited to students only, people of young age (typically anyone from the age of eighteen to twenty five) are experiencing this as the police is paying ‘extra attention’ to people around this age group. The parents of the students can relate the most to this issue since they fear for the safety of their children.
Age is one of the nine protected characteristics, recognized by most states along with disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Any fear of harm faced because of merely having any of these characteristics shall amount to fear of persecution. Since the primary reason for the fear of getting arrested or facing harm is belonging to an age group, it is a solid ground for persecution.
Persecution is recognized as a strong word and any accusation of persecution should be taken very seriously. Even though prosecution and persecution are two very different things, prosecution may also amount to persecution. The legal system of Bangladesh is already stigmatized with numerous allegations of torture in police custody and remand. In a system like this, can any student, after being charged with serious charges like vandalism and attacking policemen, be really assured that they will not be arbitrarily harmed?
One may argue that the probability of being arrested runs very thin for an average student; nevertheless, no one can rule out the chances of an innocent university student being arrested. We have to keep in mind that the jurisprudence of Bangladesh is letting 100 guilty criminals go rather than making one innocent suffer. Getting arrested by the police in a situation like this can greatly harm the future career of a student even before it started. Adding a criminal record to their name will rule out their chances of seeking a higher degree in a foreign state and also diminish the chances of that person getting a government job.
In order for a fear of persecution to be well-founded, the Court of Appeals of the United States held that it must be subjectively genuine and objectively reasonable. Just by assessing the number of phone calls received from worried relatives by every undergrad student living in Dhaka around 6 to 12 August 2018, will be more than enough to judge how subjectively genuine the fear of persecution is for the students.
Causing this fear to arise among students will prove to be unhealthy for the future of Bangladesh as students should always be encouraged to think openly and express their opinions freely. Some of the students have been charged with section 57 of the ICT Act, 2006. Punishment under section 57 has been recognized as excessive even by the cabinet as they have decided to repeal this section. If a law is accompanied by excessive punishment, prosecution under such law can also amount to persecution. The question of morality can also play a part in assessing this action of government. In order for a law to be considered valid according to the natural law theory, it must be morally right. A law cannot be contrary to human nature and must promote the objectives of mankind. It is the nature of mankind, especially the young ones, to express their frustration when they feel that their rights are being violated by the state and any law which serves as an obstruction to such nature can damage the propriety of the said law.
According to the UNHCR Guidance Note, a law can be considered as persecutory per se, for instance, where it reflects social or cultural norms which are not in conformity with international human rights standards. Freedom of opinion is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So the existence of a law under which the freedom of speech or opinion is threatened, shall be considered persecutory. It is needless to say what an important role student play in a state so the government should take necessary steps to relieve students of this fear of persecution.