President Abdul Hamid of Bangladesh

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday criticised the Bangladeshi authorities for arbitrarily detaining peaceful protesters and tracking people on social media following recent mass student protests.

In late July, a wave of protests erupted in the country’s capital of Dhaka as students took to the streets to call for safer roads after two college undergraduates were killed by a speeding bus on Dhaka Airport Road.

Media reported that police fired rubber bullets at the protesters while there were violent clashes between students and government supporters going on at the same time.

According to HRW, law enforcement did not interfere when pro-government activists beat up protesters, with police officers even raiding some residential areas in the capital, checking people’s mobile phones in the process to check whether or not they were linked to the protests.

The watchdog added that dozens of people, predominantly students and journalists, had been detained.

“[Bangladeshi Prime Minister] Sheikh Hasina’s government appears unable to tolerate criticism after Awami League [ruling party] supporters attacked protesters with machetes, sticks, and metal pipes and is apparently desperate to shut down dissent

“ The authorities should halt arbitrary arrests, prosecute those involved in violent attacks, and immediately and unconditionally release people it has thrown in jail just for speaking out,” Director of HRW’s Asia Division Brad Adams was quoted as saying by the watchdog’s official website.

On Aug. 7, the Bangladeshi police’s Cybercrime Investigation Center appealed to the public in a Facebook post, asking them to provide the police division with social media posts and addresses of people who were “plotting to create chaos in the country by spreading rumors,” the watchdog added.

HRW also said that the people had been detained under the very broad Information and Communication Technology Act, which allows the government to prosecute any person who distributes materials that are damaging to the state or people in electronic form.