Four killed in a clash between a mob of protesters and police, many others injured
At least four people were killed and scores injured in Bhola on Sunday as police opened fire to disperse a mob, who gathered to demand punishment for a Hindu man who they believed was responsible for hate conversations against Islam on Facebook Messenger app.
The mob, under the banner of “Touhidi Janata,” engaged in sporadic clashes with police at the Eidgah area in the upazila on Sunday morning that left many injured – both the protesters and law enforcement members.
Police said the situation in Borhanuddin upazila spiralled out of control when some policemen were confined in a room, prompting the rest of the force to open fire to save their lives.
The protesters were calm at first, but became violent when some aggressive youths joined their demonstration; they also led the attack on police from the front, local police sources said.
Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) troops were later deployed in the area to keep the situation under control.
Bhola Superintendent of Police Sarkar Md Kaiser confirmed the death of four people – madrasa student Mahbub, 14, college student Shahin, 23, Mahfuj, 45, and Mizan, 40.
The protesters claimed those who had been killed were their men.
Barisal division police has formed a five-probe committee, led by the deputy inspector general (DIG) of Barisal Range, to look into police’s role in the incident. The committee has been asked to file a report within seven working days.
A local platform named Sarbadoliya Muslim Oikya Parishad (All-Party Muslim Unity Council) staged a protest against the morning incident in front of Bhola Press Club on SUnday afternoon, where they placed six demands, including capital punishment for the Hindu youth, handover of the deceased to their families without autopsies, and payment for the treatment of the wounded by the government.
They also announced a rally in the premises of Bhola Government High School in Bhola Sadar upazila today to protest Sunday’s incident.
It all started due to a hacked Facebook account
Police claimed that the protest sparked due to some Messenger conversations containing hatred towards Islam.
Biplob Chandra Shuvo, the owner of the Facebook account from which the messages were sent, filed a general diary with Borhanuddin police station around 8pm on Friday, saying his account had been hacked.
When he was at the police station, hackers called him over phone and asked for money, police said.
Police further said several people on Shuvo’s friend list on Facebook had received messages from Shuvo’s account, where they had been asked to tell him to pay money if he wanted his account back.
Police detained two youths named Sharif and Emon, from Patuakhali and Borhanuddin respectively, in connection with the hacking. They were taken to the police station for interrogation.
In the meantime, word spread about the messages, sparking protest. The local administration of Borhanuddin upazila and police took initiatives as the local communities announced a protest rally at Eidgah Math around 11am Sunday, demanding death sentence for Shuvo.
Police also took Shuvo into safe custody, and sat in a meeting with the local Muslim clerics and others on Saturday.
The district deputy commissioner, UNO of Borhanuddin upazila, OC of Borhanuddin police station, and local public representatives were also present at the meeting, held at the police station.
After police agreed to show Shuvo as detained, the religious leaders agreed to postpone theprotest.
However, on Sunday morning , people gathered under the banner of Touhidi Janata and brought out a rally. Police requested the imam of Borhanuddin Eidgah Mosque, Mawlana Jalal Uddin, and Borhanuddin Bazar Mosque’s imam, Mawlana Imam, not to stage the demonstration, but they did not listen to police.
People started gathering at the venue of the rally, where a stage had been built and at least 17 loudspeakers had been set up earlier. Police was deployed to avert any untoward situation.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune on Sunday, Additional DIG AKM Ehsan Ullah of the Barishal Police Range said both the police and the local administration was alert, and he rushed to Bhola from Barisal for this.
Leaders of the protesters assured them that they would not do anything unruly, police said.
The additional DIG, the UNO and the district SP addressed the rally and assured the protesters that they had already taken necessary legal actions regarding the hate speech. Following a prayer session, the rally concluded ahead of the scheduled time.
But the thousands of people who had joined the rally became outraged at the two imams because they agreed to conclude the ceremony early.
As police tried to calm the crowd down, some of the protesters threw brick chipsat the policemen.
Police officials, local administration and the two imams took shelter on the second floor of a mosque nearby to save themselves. The agitators chased them and vandalized the staircase of the building in the process. They also kept hurling brick chipsat the building as well.
Additional DIG Ehsan ullah said the agitators used construction material stored in the compound of the mosque to attack the building.
As the situation escalated, some of the attackers tried to break open the door of the room where Ehsan Ullah and the other officials had taken shelter, using crowbars.
“We used mattress and bed frame to shield ourselves. They [the protesters] would have killed us if they had succeeded in breaking into the room,” the additional DIG said.
The UNO informed the deputy commissioner about the situation and, upon his permission, the UNO asked the policemen to open fire at the attackers.
The officials were finally able to leave safely after additional police force arrived.
Police claimed that some of the attackers in the gathering had guns, and two police members were injured during the clash.
They claimed that two of the deceased were shot, and the two others had sustained injuries in their heads.