Bangladesh is considering capital punishment for traffic accident deaths, an official says, as thousands of students protest over the deaths of two teenagers by a speeding bus in Dhaka.
Tens of thousands of angry school and colleges students have been demanding changes to Bangladesh’s transport laws, paralysing the crowded capital of 18 million, after the two teenagers were killed when a privately operated bus ran over a group of students on July 29.
“In this amendment it has been proposed to award the highest level of punishment if it is killing by an accident,” said the law ministry official, who has been briefed on the matter but declined to be named ahead of a decision.
The proposed law change would be considered by Cabinet on Monday, he said.
The current punishment is a maximum jail term of three years. Using the death penalty for road accidents is rare anywhere in the world. Bangladesh’s transport authority listed punishments given in different countries that ranged from 14 years in the UK in extreme cases to two years in India.
Students have now been protesting for nine days, and have ignored repeated calls from the government for them to return home.
Sheikh Shafi, a student of a polytechnic institute in Dhaka who lost his brother in a road accident in 2015, said one of the problems was that bus drivers were not paid fixed monthly salaries, instead they only earned commissions based on the number of passengers, forcing them to work long hours.
“Our demand is that the owners must appoint them and they will work a maximum of 10 hours. The commission based system must be eliminated,” said Mr Shafi, who was injured while protesting over the weekend.
Police used tear gas to disperse crowds on Sunday, and at least 50 protesters have also been injured in street attacks.
Local media reported that political activists belonging to the governing party beat students marching towards their offices, but Obaidul Quader, general secretary of the Awami League, said the party activists acted in self-defence as the students attacked first.
Amid the protests on Sunday, an official vehicle carrying the US ambassador to Bangladesh was attacked by a group of armed men, some on motorcycles, the embassy said in a statement. There were no injuries, but two vehicles were damaged.
The embassy has condemned the “brutal attacks and violence” against the students protesters by security forces – a charge the government denies.
Police said they did not have an immediate explanation as to why the US ambassador came under attack.