Vice-chancellors of several private universities yesterday urged the government to grant amnesty to students arrested in cases filed in connection with violence during the student movement for safe roads.
At a views-exchanging meeting with Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid, they said many of the students who took part in the protest for a legitimate cause were provoked into violence. They asked the government to release them.
In reply, the minister said the law would take its own course.
"Who are we to grant amnesty? No question of pardon comes here. The students joined the movement because of their grievances and we were sympathetic to them.
"But if anyone goes there with an ill intention and plan, and commits anything illegal after a solution [the prime minister's promise of meeting the demands], who will pardon [them]? Law will take its own course. But we will definitely be mindful so innocent students are not harmed," he told the vice-chancellors at the meeting.
The education ministry and the University Grants Commission jointly organised the meeting at the International Mother Language Institute auditorium to discuss the situation following clashes between police and students of several private universities.
On Monday, police and alleged ruling party activists clashed with students of East West, North South and Independent universities when they tried to take to the streets in support of the demonstrations for safe roads.
Meanwhile, students of Brac University boycotted academic activities demanding release of 22 private university students picked up during Monday's clashes and protested the attack on students.
Brac University later announced on its website that exams were suspended until after the Eid-ul-Azha.
Shanto-Mariam University on Tuesday announced suspension of all classes and examinations until further notice.
The East West University authorities have suspended classes and exams till August 11.
School and college students began an unprecedented demonstration demanding concrete government steps to improve road safety after two college students were run over and killed by a bus on July 29.
The students brought Dhaka traffic to a standstill for several days as they took to the streets demanding justice.
At yesterday's meeting, Prof Abdul Mannan Choudhury, VC of World University of Bangladesh, said the students should be granted general amnesty.
He said his university authorities convinced the students that the government had met their demands to keep them from demonstrating.
Primeasia University VC Abdul Hannan Chowdhury urged the government to ensure that law enforcers do not enter campuses of any university without prior permission as it creates further unrest.
He also said law enforcers should not put students in legal tangles.
"They took to the streets with legitimate demands. They have some mistakes and they were provoked as well," he said, demanding release of the arrestees.
Northern University VC Prof Anwar Hossain said the students protested for a right cause and urged them to return to classes.
Prof Md Abdul Mannan, VC of Hamdard University Bangladesh, echoed a similar view.
Amirul Haque of Eastern University also demanded release of the students who were placed on remand.
North South University VC Prof Atiqul Islam described how violence flared up on the campus on Monday and how he was able to let the students leave after negotiating with the police.
Speaking as the chief guest, the education minister said he was surprised to see the students of private universities taking to the streets a day after they held a meeting with school and college students who promised to go back to classes.
"A different chapter began on August 6," he said, adding a quarter had spread rumours and provoked the students to create instability in the country.
They changed the entire picture of the student protest even after the prime minister accepted the students' demands and some of the measures were already in place, he said, adding, "We cannot support such a situation at private universities."
He urged the VCs to be more alert.
"You have to take the responsibility and be accountable. The trustee boards will help you. We will offer all-out cooperation."
UGC Chairman Prof Abdul Mannan said, "We don't want our universities shut for a single day. Please ensure academic environment at the universities."