Detained Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam has once again been denied bail in a case filed under the Information, Communication and Technology Act (ICT) for instigating “students to continue a [recent] movement against the government” and “spreading propaganda against the government”. Alam and his acquaintances deny those charges.
Meanwhile, protests continued at home and abroad to release the photographer and other detained students. A number of students got bail a few weeks ago, but an unknown number are still detained.
Alam was detained on August 5, 2018, officially arrested the next day, and ultimately sued under the ICT Act, to which his counsels submitted the bail petition on August 28.
On September 4, a two-member High Court bench felt ‘embarrassed’ to hear Alam's bail in the case. In Bangladeshi judicial practice, the judges can sometimes feel embarrassed to entertain cases demanding a fair and impartial dispensation of justice, especially if any party in the case is personally known, directly or indirectly, or if they fear they will be threatened or intimidated. Alam's counsels appealed to the High Court who directed the lower court concerned with the case to dispose of the plea by Tuesday.
#Bangladesh‘s #HighCourt judges felt #embarassed to hear #BailPetition of #ArbitrarilyDetained #Protographer #ShahidulAlam after a day's delay for allowing #AttorneyGeneral a #chance to argue in favour of the #Government. Thus, #injustice takes its roots! https://t.co/LAj3iHpNGY
— Ashraf Zaman (@ZamanAshraf) September 4, 2018
Arrested for expressing his views
Alam was arrested in August after covering the student protests against ineffective traffic laws in Bangladesh on his Facebook and Twitter accounts and discussed the protests on Facebook Live.
Thousands of secondary school students in the capital city of Dhaka took to the streets on July 29 in sustained protests lasing more than a week, demanding improved road safety and rule enforcement after two of their classmates were killed due to reckless driving by a public bus.
Alongside his social media coverage of the protests, Alam gave a television interview with Al Jazeera where he talked about the recent situation in Bangladesh and criticized the government.
A #Bangladesh court has rejected bail for photographer Shahidul Alam, who was arrested after criticizing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in an interview. Here’s a smattering of his award-winning work. https://t.co/ESlMbpRIun
— Sadanand Dhume (@dhume) September 11, 2018
Global outcry, artful protest
A number of international agencies, Nobel laureates, photography professionals, journalists and human rights organizations have urged the Bangladesh government to release Alam.
11 Nobel Laureates and 17 Eminent Citizens call for the Unconditional Release of Dr Shahidul Alam of Bangladesh. To read the full statement please visit: https://t.co/Rq5IVU0sRi pic.twitter.com/LgFkOadXE0
— Muhammad Yunus (@Yunus_Centre) September 2, 2018
Glad to hear Foreign Office are raising human rights abuses w/ authorities in Bangladesh in response to my #freeShahidulAlam letter to minister @MarkFieldUK One wonders if repressive government feels more able to get away with stuff now eyes of the world diverted to Rohinga pic.twitter.com/Jbd6eFjxKr
— Rupa Huq MP (@RupaHuq) September 7, 2018
Indian writer Arundhati Roy, American linguist Noam Chomsky, Canadian author Naomi Klein, American playwright Eve Ensler and Indian journalist Vijay Prasad have issued their second statement to the Bangladesh government to drop charges against Alam.
You look around in the #world and who are the global leaders [in documentary #photography. and there is really no one more important than Shahidul Alam, especially in our region – RMIT University photography lecturer Alan Hill. https://t.co/0ZmDkKv4SW @SBSNews @_MAQUETTE_
— Majority World (@Majority_World) September 12, 2018
Amnesty International has declared Shahidul Alam as Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.
In Bangladesh, numerous protests and solidarity rallies have been organized in the past weeks to demand the unconditional release of Shahidul Alam and other detained protesters.
New graffiti at the Dhaka University campus demanding release of noted photographer Shahidul Alam. © Sudeepto Salam#drik #pathshala #ShahidulAlam #ChobiMela #photography #street #FreeShahidul #cycling #Dhaka #abduction #detained #remand #case #jail #interrogation #HumanRights pic.twitter.com/5pPng3ZB2b
— Sudeepto Salam (@sudeeptosalam) September 4, 2018
On September 4, the Drik Gallery hosted an exhibition of selected photos of Alam titled “A Struggle for Democracy” to highlight his struggles and honor the fact that he founded the picture gallery 29 years ago.
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#FreeShahidulAlam #FreeShahidul #Solidarity #WeWantJustice A Struggle for Democracy, a photography exhibition at Drik Gallery by Shahidul Alam. The exhibition is arranged to protest against the photographer’s imprisonment. The exhibition will be open for all till 10 September 2018 everyday 3-8 pm. Address: Drik Gallery House 58, Road 15 A, Dhanmondi Dhaka 1209 Photo by Mishuk Ashraful Awal @mishukashraf
Alam is also the founder of the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, a school of photography and multimedia journalism, and the Chobi Mela, a biannual International Festival of Photography.
On Sunday, September 9, a public gathering titled “Let democracy be free” was held at Shahbag Square in Dhaka to protest Alam's imprisonment along with several other students. Some of the images can found in this Instagram post:
Participants used art and performance to express their grievances.
One woman wore a paper bag which read “We are not supposed to have heads” and “we don't have tongues, words”. Another protestor sang and played guitar while wearing a makeshift cage. In front of the cage, a helmet and hammer were placed, signifying the pro-government vigilantes wearing helmets who attacked the student protestors using hammers.
A duct-taped camera was displayed along with a banner beside it that read “Let Democracy Be Free”.
Protests in solidarity have been also arranged abroad in cities like London, New York, and Washington DC:
‘Tell everybody to be strong – I am’. Fascinating to hear from Shahidul's friends, colleagues and elder sister at the #freeshahidulalam protest in London. pic.twitter.com/8ej7GdoJ2u
— English PEN (@englishpen) September 7, 2018
We are standing in solidarity with Bangladeshi photographer #ShahidulAlam in Washington DC. Shahidul Alam was arrested from his home in #Dhaka on Aug 5, hours after he posted a video to Facebook about protests in the city. #freeshahidul #FreeShahidulAlam
Pictures by @mdedora pic.twitter.com/yaKGDMABb2
— Committee to Protect Journalists (@pressfreedom) September 7, 2018
Instagram's visual protests
Alam's niece, London-based Sofie Karim, activated the visual power of Instagram to protest her uncle's detention:
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My uncle loves the world and the world loves him. Friends at @visapourlimage International photojournalism festival (France), NY, Washington DC and London – thank you so much. Love and truth beat torture and repression. Break the dark machinery of paranoia with your light. #freeshahidulalam – For my incarcerated uncle @shahidul001, prisoner of conscience. Link to petition in my bio. Please share this post freely. @hansulrichobrist @tate @liverpoolbiennial @whitechapelgallery @alessio_antoniolli @annemcneill215 @impgalleryphoto @icp @thephotographersgallery @bobandrobertasmith @fionabradleyxx @francesmarymorris @cammockhelen @joe_scotland @johnakomfrah @ikongallery @lubainapics @mahtabhussain @martinparrstudio @martinparrfdn @aceagrams @polly.staple @nicholascullinan @rachelwords @ranabegumstudio @autographabp @nadavkander @mack_books @loubuck01 @theartnewspaper.official @artnet @guardian @thetimes @jamesestrin
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Arrow Through the Heart of Bangladesh Art: Screenshot of article in today’s The Art Newspaper @theartnewspaper.official with my imprisoned uncle’s @shahidul001 punjabi shirt trim. Artist friends please read this important article. @shahidul001 is one of Bangladesh’s leading art and humanitarian activism figures, with international reach. His (and hundreds of others’) treatment by the state of Bangladesh, changes everything for the art scene there. The state wants silence, but forcibly mute art has little credibility. @theartnewspaper.official @nytimes @washingtonpost @time @thetimes @financialtimes @skynews @guardian @itvnews @bbc @channel4 @cnn @dhakatribune @newage_bd2011 @dhakaartsummit @dailystarbd @bdnews24.comm @unitednewsofbangladesh@indiartfair @kochibiennale @kochibiennalefoundation @the_hindu @indianexpress @kathmandupost.official @lemondefr @indiaartfair @india.today @amnesty @peninternational @tatemodern_official @themuseumofmodernart @thephotographersgallery @photographmag @royalphotographicsociety @commonwealthinstitute @autographabp #freeshahidulalam #censorship #bangladesh #bangladeshprotest #asianart #contemporaryart #photography #royalphotographicsociety #blackphotography
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‘Tell Someone’ (for my incarcerated uncle, photographer @shahidul001). When I was a child my uncle taught me: “if someone does anything bad to you, the best thing is to tell as many people as possible straight away. Don’t hide it, fearing others may not believe you. It won’t go away. Your best protection is to let people know and tell the perpetrator you are letting people know. But be transparent. Say what you say in front of everyone, including the perpetrator”. When he shouted that statement about his blood stained punjabi in those few moments he had, in front of the police, in front of the world, I knew he was applying that theory. He told the world and he let the perpetrator know that he told the world. (My son’s painting of the Bangladesh flag, on my aunt Rahnuma Ahmed’s sari). #freeshahidulalam @theartnewspaper.official @nytimes @washingtonpost @time @thetimes @financialtimes @skynews @guardian @itvnews @bbc @channel4 @cnn @dhakatribune @newage_bd2011 @dhakaartsummit @dailystarbd @bdnews24.comm @unitednewsofbangladesh@indiartfair @kochibiennale @kochibiennalefoundation @the_hindu @indianexpress @kathmandupost.official @lemondefr @indiaartfair @india.today @amnesty @peninternational @tatemodern_official @themuseumofmodernart @thephotographersgallery @photographmag @royalphotographicsociety @commonwealthinstitute @autographabp #freeshahidulalam #censorship #bangladesh #bangladeshprotest #asianart #contemporaryart #childrensart #photography #royalphotographicsociety #blackphotography#humanrights #prisonerofconscience
More protest art is available through Karim's Instagram account and her interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
London-based Bangladeshi legal consultant Dr. Rayhan Rashid expressed his reactions about the denial of Alam's bail on Facebook:
Disgraceful cowardice on the part of the judiciary and the ruling Awami League government in Bangladesh! When a regime is governed by nothing but fear, it is often a sign that the regime might have lost its plot. Weaponising fear as a tool to govern citizens, or trying to act tough – do not hide who are the afraid ones here!
A nationwide demonstration has been called for by student organizations on September 17 if Shahidul Alam and other student leaders are not released.