Shahidul Alam Arrested for Supporting Bangladesh Student Protests
By Phoebe Tam
*Last updated November 16, 2018.
On August 5, Dhaka-based photographer and social activist Shahidul Alam was arrested for violating section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information Communications Technology Act, which forbids the transmission of electronic materials that are “false and obscene” or that may incite sentiments against the ruling party. During an interview that aired on Al Jazeera earlier that day, Alam had openly critiqued the reactions of the government and police toward the ongoing, student-led protests in Dhaka. He had also commented on the protests on Facebook Live.
The demonstrations were sparked by the deaths of two teenagers in a road accident on July 29, and were aimed at pressuring authorities to improve road safety. The protests escalated on August 4 when police began attacking the thousands of people who had gathered with rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas, and clashes between protestors and government-supporters broke out. More than 100 related injuries were reported. Authorities have shut down mobile internet services in an attempt to quash the spread of civil unrest.
“Today the police specifically asked for help from armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads. The government has miscalculated,” Alam said during the Al Jazeera interview. “It thought that fear and repression would be enough but you cannot tame an entire nation in this manner.”
At around 10 PM on August 5, more than 20 plainclothes police officers showed up at Alam’s residence. One of them has spoken to Agence France-Presse: “We are interrogating him for giving false information to different media and for provocative comments. And he could not give proper answers. He admitted that these are his personal opinions.”
On September 2, an open letter demanding Alam's release began to circulate. Among the 49 signatories are artists Anish Kapoor, Rana Begum, Rasheed Araeen and Sunil Gupta. According to the letter and Alam's own legal testimony, the photographer was tortured during his detainment at the Keraniganj Central Jail in Dhaka.
On November 15, Alam’s lawyers Sara Hossain and Jyotirmoy Barua announced in a post on the FreeShahidul Facebook page that he had been granted bail, after more than 100 days in jail and having been denied bail five times. The government's case against Alam remains open. Hossain and Barua added that they will continue to campaign for all charges against Alam to be dropped.
Alam is a well-respected photographer, and is the founder of the digital-media agency Drik Picture Library. His works have been showcased at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Paris’ Centre Georges Pompidou. He has also been published in major media outlets such as Time Magazine and National Geographic, where he is a part of the advisory board. In June 2009, Alam was sued by the paramilitary force Bangladesh Rifles for illegal intrusion at the India-Bangladesh border, where he was working on a film project. In March the following year, Drik Picture Library's “Crossfire,” an exhibition that brought light to extrajudicial killings by the local police, was censored.
Phoebe Tam is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.
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