'We have noticed some incidents of police action that have been recorded and circulated online'
Police have drawn criticism from rights activists and some government officials, after videos and photos of law enforcement members beating and punishing people who were found outdoors went viral on social media.
In was seen in many videos, policemen were baton charging people, most of whom were not using masks despite the spread Covid-19. On Friday, Information Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud was among those who condemned the overly aggressive police action.
Police have adopted strict measures to keep people home since the government declared a 10-day “general holiday” to slow the spread of the extremely contagious coronavirus. The holiday, which includes bans on all rail, road, air, and waterway travel, began on Thursday.
Kitchen markets, pharmacies, grocery and departmental stores are allowed to operate during the holiday, which is set to end on April 4, and people are allowed to leave their homes in small numbers for essential tasks such as buying food and medicine.
Human rights activist Nur Khan Liton said the physical abuse and harassment by police is a gross violation of the law and human rights.
“We have noticed some incidents of police action that have been recorded and circulated online. The acts committed by the police in these videos are heinous crimes,” he said.
Suggesting that police give counselling instead of resorting to violence, Liton said the government has already wasted a lot of time thinking about what could have been done to stop the virus from spreading.
Supreme Court lawyer and rights activist Jyotirmoy Barua, citing Article-36 of the constitution, asked: “Since there is no curfew or emergency situation going on in the country, why are the police and army baton charging?”
Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the public interest, every citizen shall have the right to move freely throughout Bangladesh, to reside and settle in any place therein and to leave and re-enter Bangladesh, the article reads.
In an online media briefing in Dhaka, Information Minister Hasan Mahmud said it is not right for police to harass general people on the roads without a valid reason.
“The country has not gone into a lockdown. Anybody can leave their home depending on their needs, but facing harassment for that is very unfortunate. Police have not been told to do this,” he said.
Meanwhile, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said law enforcement agencies are working to discourage unnecessary public gatherings for the time being.
“Our law enforcement agencies have been instructed to prevent unnecessary public meetings. Accordingly, they are working on it and asking people to follow the government’s instructions,” he told reporters at his Dhanmondi residence.
When contacted, Police Headquarters' Assistant Inspector General (media) Sohel Rana said that more than 200,000 members of the police are working amidst the risk of being infected by the coronavirus, when most of their countrymen are staying at home.
Admitting that he had received a few complaints of “indecent behaviour” by some policemen during the general holiday, Rana pledged action against those involved.
He also claimed that not all the allegations are true and that many people are not cooperating with the police.