More than a week after police jailed Bangladeshi photographer, educator and activist Shahidul in order to silence him, his supporters continue to call on others in the photo community to join the #freeshahidulalam campaign.
Alam was dragged from his house on August 5 by plainclothes police, and remains in jail pending a bail hearing scheduled for September 11. In his first court appearance on August 6, he had trouble walking, and told the judge he had been beaten and threatened while in police custody. The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, World Press Photo, PEN International, Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International, Aperture, the Lucie Foundation (which is giving Alam its humanitarian award in October), numerous photographers, writers, artists, filmmakers, curators and arts and human rights organizations around the world have circulated petitions, contacted Bangladesh officials and issued public statements demanding Alam’s unconditional release.
*Update: On August 22, after visiting Alam in jail, his wife and a friend released a statement urging that Alam receive immediate medical attention. They report that he has developed “breathing difficulties, pain and eyesight problems” following his report that he had been beaten in police custody. To contact officials in Bangladesh, see addresses at the end of this article.
Alam is charged with violating Section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, which criminalizes the sharing of information that “prejudices the image of the state or a person.” Alam had posted on Facebook video of journalists being assaulted while trying to cover demonstrations in Dhaka August 4, and told Al Jazeera the government had “hired goons” to attack protesters. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have called the ICT a “draconian law” that’s been used to silence critics of the government. He faces a sentence of seven to 14 years in jail.
Alam has been harassed by police before. In 2010, police tried to shut down “Crossfire,” his exhibition about the sites of extrajudicial killings by a special police force. “He’s always been a very independent voice and a democratic voice,” says Contact Press’s Robert Pledge, a long-time friend and collaborator of Alam’s. Before Bangladesh passed the ICT law, “There wasn’t much they could do,” Pledge says, “but this time, they had a legal reason for getting him out of the way.” Now police and government forces are making an example of him, to silence further dissent.
His arrest comes amid a continuing crackdown on students who led recent demonstrations demanding greater road safety in Dhaka. On August 4, several journalists covering the protests were beaten. In the past week, an estimated 150 people have been questioned by police about their social media posts. One person told a reporter Dhaka Daily Star that her husband had been detained “for writing in support of Shahidul Alam on Facebook.” As a safety precaution, several students and supporters of Alam’s have deleted their social media accounts.
Outside Bangladesh, photographers Sim Chi Yin, Donald Weber and Katrin Koenning reported that their posts about Alam and attacks on journalists in Dhaka disappeared from their Facebook pages. “Two were zapped from my FB work page,” says Sim, who had been in Singapore when she posted links to articles shared by photographers in Bangladesh.
The crackdown within Bangladesh means it is the responsibility of those of us outside the country to keep advocating for Alam’s release—and advocate for freedom of expression and the safety of the many journalists Alam has inspired.
As the founder of Drik Photo, the Pathshala South Media Institute and the Chobi Mela photo festival, Alam has done more than any other individual to foster the talents of photographers in Bangladesh and bring international acclaim to Bangladesh’s photography. Now his arrest and detention is drawing international attention to the Bangladesh government’s suppression of free speech and the press.
Amnesty International urges supporters to write directly to government officials before September 18, calling on them to immediately and unconditionally release Alam, and to ensure that journalists and other citizens be allowed to exercise their human right to freedom of expression. The offices to contact include:
Minister of Home Affairs
Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal
Salutation: Honourable Home Minister
The Bangladesh High Commission and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Address: Segunbagicha, Dhaka 1000, Bangladesh
Salutation: Hon. Minister Mr. Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, MP
Copies of emails to those officials should also be sent to diplomatic representatives accredited in the sender’s country.
In the US:
The Embassy of Bangladesh in Washington, DC
Ambassador Mohammad Ziauddin
Phone: 202-244-0183 (PABX)
Contact form: http://www.bdembassyusa.org/?page=contact
Salutation: Dear Ambassador
High Commission for Bangladesh in Ottawa, Canada
Ambassador Mizanur Rahman
Salutation: Your Excellency
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Shahidul Alam, the award-winning photographer, teacher, and founder of the photo agencies Drik Photo and Majority World, was denied bail at a hearing on September 11, 36 days after plainclothes police dragged him from his home. Alam has been charged under Section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, which criminalizes the sharing... More ›
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