Shahidul-Alam’s Arrest: Critical Crisis in Bangladesh’s Democracy

    BANGLADESH

    Bangladesh’s well-known photojournalist was arrested in the wake of mass public movements in Bangladesh against unsafe roads. His camera captured the momentum of the streets and captured public discontentment.

    Priyanka Yadav | The New Leam

    Shahidul Alam / Image Source : Dhaka Times

    Shahidul Alam, a reputed photo journalist from Bangladesh, has been under custody at the Ramna Police Station, after an FIR was filed against him under section 57(2) of the ICT Act. A case was filed against him as he was accused of using electronic media to instigate disorder in the country and spread fabricated information and rumors via social media, after he gave an interview on student protests for road safety in Bangladesh to Doha-Based television channel Al-Jazeera.

    As reported the claimant stated his remarks were aimed at worsening the law and order situation, tarnishing the image of the country and hurting the sentiments of the people by spreading rumors.

    Shahidul Alam gave the interview in the backdrop of student’s protests in Bangladesh who were demanding government action on road safety, as road accidents have been a rampant reality in Bangladesh. The government dealt with the protesting students by the use of tear gas and police force and also used lathi charge on the unarmed protesting students. Essential services like the bus-services, schools etc. were shut down for days to shun the movement.

    Who is Shahidul Alam?

    Shahidul Alam is a photojournalist, curator, teacher and writer. He is the founder of the Dhaka Picture Library (1989), the Chobi Mela International Photography Festival (1999) and the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute in Dhaka (1998). He is the recipient of the Shipakala Padak by the President of Bangladesh and in 2018, he received the Humanitarian Award by the Lucie Awards. Some of his notable works include his coverage of news events on natural disasters, government upheavals, death of factory workers, human rights abuses, Bangladeshi government and military’s repression and disappearances of political opponents and his books Nature’s Fury(2007) and My Journey as a Witness(2011).

    Shahidul Alam’s lawyer have filed a writ petition for his bail at the lower court and high court in Bangladesh but till now the court has not granted him bail. Even after a writ petition was additionally filed by his partner Rahnuma seeking his bail for medical examination of Shahidul Alam on the basis of his Shahidul’s statement of police harassment and torture in custody. It has been 100 days now after his arrest but no action has been taken by the court to release him or undertake his medical examination carefully.

    Personalities like Amartya Sen, Noam Chomsksy and Arundhati Roy have spoken for his release but the court seems to have maintained a dumb ear towards his case.

    Freedom of expression is one of the vibrant features of any democracy. The constitution of Bangladesh represents itself as a democratic republic, but the reality of the state does not adhere to the ideal.

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    If we look at the interview which Shahidul-Alam gave to Al-Jazeera there isn’t anything derogatory which the journalist spoke expect for the fact that he raise concerns about how the government mishandled the students by the use of violence and how the government in the past also has not been able to cater to the demands of its people. Making a critical observation has landed him into jail on the charges of spreading hate about the country. A closer look at it appears absurd that Shahidul-Alam is spending his days in jail. It is a paradoxical place for any democracy to be in.

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