Rickshaw pullers and other low-income people, who have gone outside to earn their livelihoods, have been beaten up and harassed by on-duty police personnel
A youth aged between 25-27 years went out to buy essentials for breakfast in Rajshahi during the early hours of Friday.
As soon as he stepped out of his home, he encountered some policemen who were patrolling the area to enforce social distancing to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19).
The policemen caught the youth, and then forced him to do sit-ups while making him grab his own ears. Law enforcement then let the youth go.
In the evening on Thursday, in the Panthapath signal area of Dhaka, Akib Arman – a doctor from the intensive care unit of BIRDEM General Hospital – was riding his car home after a shift, but the police fined him Tk2,000.
Similar incidents have taken place in different parts of the country – including in Bhola, Barisal, Rajshahi, Bogura, Dinajpur and Gaibandha – where the policemen have been seen beating people up with sticks and using other forms of physical punishment, said witnesses.
Rickshaw pullers and other low-income people, who have gone outside to earn their livelihoods, have also been beaten up and harassed by on-duty police personnel.
Meanwhile, delivery vehicle drivers and labourers carrying food and essentials also allege they have been harassed and beaten up by policemen in various places across the country.
It should be noted that the government had declared the movement of essentials part an emergency service during the 10-day shutdown.
"Some of our goods-carrying trucks have been obstructed at various points across the country, while some of the staff have been punished," said AFM Ansary, Managing Director of ACI Agro Business Department.
He sought the help of law enforcement agencies to ensure the uninterrupted supply of goods and products, as March and April are the peak season for the agro sector.
Legal and human rights experts termed the police's behaviour unconstitutional, unlawful and a clear violation of human rights.
"As there is no section 144, lockdown or emergency declared, such actions by the police have no legal basis. The government requested the people go under self-quarantine, but it is not an order," said Supreme Court lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua.
He added that what police can do is only request or motivate people not to assemble outside.
"Police or magistrates cannot give inhuman or degrading punishment to people who are going outside for their daily needs, or even a doctor who is returning from duty. It is unconstitutional," said Jyotirmoy Barua, adding that the victims have the right to file a criminal case against the police personnel concerned.
South Asia Researcher at the Amnesty International, Sultan Mohammed Zakaria termed such behavior a gross violation of human rights.
"Even in wartime, you cannot beat someone up, instead you take him or her into custody. As there is no lockdown or section 144, forcing and beating people up is a complete violation of human rights," he said.
Not only the human rights and civil society, but senior officials from the police department also condemned their colleagues' actions.
Mashroof Hossain, an Additional Superintendent of Police who is now in the USA on leave to pursue his master's degree, in a video message expressed his concerns over the police brutality.
"You cannot beat someone up after watching him or her walking on the road during the current shutdown because you were given the power to enforce social distancing. Even the Code of Criminal Procedure act does not allow police officers to beat people up unless all the other efforts have failed," he added.
Mashroof condemned the behavior by saying, "This is not fair."
However, the police said that not all such complaints are true.
"Many people do not cooperate with the police, and they do not abide by the law and government directions. At this critical hour, police on duty in the field have been facing difficulties in managing people," said Sohel Rana, assistant inspector general of Police Headquarters (media) in a statement.
However, he said that the police have always directed its officers and the force to behave politely and professionally with the people.
"Still, there are a few complaints where a number of police personnel are involved. We will surely take action against them," his statement read.
Meanwhile, Information Minister Muhammad Hasan Mahmud also commented that it is not fair to harass people unnecessarily.
"People can go on the road when it is necessary, as the country is not under a lockdown. It is really sad if someone is being harassed for being on the road" he added.