Cultural activist Syeda Ratna and her 17-year old son were released from Kalabagan Police Station, following protests by several civic and cultural organisations on 24 April.
What crime did the mother and son commit? Police complained that the duo allegedly had obstructed 'government work', when in fact the mother and son protested construction of a permanent establishment for the Kalabagan police on a playground where local children used to play and the Muslims offered Eid prayers and organised funerals.
Amid the scarcity of open space for socialisation, the mother and son, among other local people, tried to conserve the playground. On Monday, The Business Standard spoke to Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association Chief Executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan, who closely observed developments of the Kalabagan incident.
Every citizen has the right to stage non-violent protest. Ironically, Syeda Ratna and her son, protesting non-violently against the construction of a police station complex at Kalabagan ground, had been detained by police for 13 hours. Did police have the authority to arrest non-violent protesters?
Arresting any person should be the last option for police. If police wanted to arrest the mother and son, there had to be a specific complaint against them. But the police did not arrest them, they rather detained them.
Legally, this move is termed as 'illegal detention.' Without any complaint, police cannot detain anyone. The Sunday incident was completely an illegal detention and police did it to show muscle power.
We have asked the concerned authorities for clarification; not only on the matter of the duo's detention, but also on an incident when the police punished four children who attempted to play on the Tentultala ground on 31 January this year. Consequently, the authorities withdrew the three police personnel from the Kalabagan Police Station for punishing the children.
Soon after the Kalabagan police detained the mother and son, we went to the police station but police officers refused to tell us the reason behind the detention despite being requested several times. The officer in-charge of the police station did not respond to our calls.
We demand clarification on every issue mentioned.
Moreover, we demand fair and impartial investigation into the incidents and an exemplary punishment of the police officers under question so that such incidents are not repeated.
Top policy makers in the government often put emphasis on the existence of a playground for a livable environment and call for conservation of open space. Do you think that the Kalabagan incident undermined the government's call?
I find such incidents very annoying. Police cannot build a permanent station on a ground before it gives alternative options for the people who have been using the same ground for sports, Eid congregation and funeral.
Yes, definitely, the police require a permanent station. But the government should rethink the necessity of the traditional police station complex. At present, there is a severe land shortage in the city. The police have justified their decision to establish a complex on the playground because of land scarcity. They say they are doing this because of a lack of land.
[To this end] they should think about how a permanent police station can be established amid land scarcity. A multi-storey building can house more than one police station. In reality, is there any benefit of having a police station at citizen's doorsteps when the service seekers hardly can avail the service during an emergency?
If there was a guarantee of round the clock support from the police, why didn't we find the officer in-charge of Kalabagan police station on Sunday? Why didn't the officer come and let us know the reason behind the detention of the mother and the son?
Is there a congenial atmosphere for environmental conservation campaigns in Bangladesh? What kind of response do you get from the political elites?
For the last couple of years, we have witnessed several incidents where environment campaigners were harassed with false complaints. Persons like us who are leading environmental campaigns have not been spared. Also the persons seeking legal support from us have also been charged with fabricated complaints, including charges of stealing cattle, rape and murder.
You may recall one incident that happened two years ago when a member of parliament from one Jashore constituency directed a police station officer in-charge to explode a bomb at the station, if needed, and accuse an environment activist of the crime. That news became viral through social media.
The answer to your question is a big no.
However, these types of crises, for example, the Sunday incident regarding the Kalabagan police station, are created artificially. Journalists can verify whether the demand for conserving the Tentultala ground is logical or not. Local dwellers have raised the demand. There is no reason for the top politicians or policymakers not to understand the merit of the demand.
I think such a crisis has been created to entertain vested interest groups and it widens the gap between the citizen and the government. I would ask why the state agencies like the police force don't have sensitivity towards environmental conservation. Environment conservation is a matter of sustainability for the next generations.
Interestingly, concerned citizens are coming forward to raise environmental issues. If this issue could be solved through the court, I might lodge a case and fight. But in the present situation, as the Kalabagan incident proved, I would like to say that citizens should raise their voice and work, particularly on 'sensitive issues,' shoulder to shoulder.