Calls are growing for the release of award-winning photographer and social activist Shahidul Alam who was detained by Bangladeshi police for “provocative comments” about student-led protests in the country.
Alam, 63, was picked up by officers at his home in Dhaka on Sunday, hours after his remarks about the days-long rallies were broadcast on Al Jazeera.
Mass demonstrations over road safety broke out in late July after two teenagers were killed by a speeding bus.
Five renowned intellectuals and authors – Arundhati Roy, Eve Ensler, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad – issued a statement urging the Bangladeshi government to “immediately release” Alam and drop all charges against him
“Documentation and criticism are elementary aspects of human life. For a state to deny a citizen the right to say what is happening and to be angered about what is happening is a denial of this basic right,” their statement said.
Road safety protests
In his interview with Al Jazeera, Alam had criticised the Bangladeshi government for their handling of the student-led protests and said they were “clinging on [to power] by brute force”.
On his way to court on Monday, he told reporters police had beaten him and had not given him access to a lawyer.
On Wednesday, Alam was sent to hospital after his wife petitioned the court challenging the legality of her husband’s arrest and asking he be given medical treatment after allegedly being beaten.
Police have denied the allegation.
Since his detention, civil society groups, activists and others have called for his release.
On Friday, 24 civil society groups including Transparency International Bangladesh, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement condemning the “blatant violation” of Alam’s right to freedom of expression and calling for his “immediate and unconditional” release.
A change.org petition for the release of Alam launched by rights group Amnesty International reached 5,000 supporters on Saturday.
On Thursday, Dhaka police deputy commissioner Nazmul Islam said 12 people had been arrested for “spreading rumours” on Facebook during the protests, which he said left about 1,000 people injured.
“Hopefully in the next couple of days we will arrest more people,” he said.
Islam said rumours spread online had led to the “destruction of 382 public vehicles, including eight police vehicles”.
Rights groups have criticised Bangladesh’s internet laws. Amnesty International said the law under which Alam was charged, section 57 of the Information Communications Technology Act, was “draconian” and “inconsistent with international legal standards for the protection of the right to freedom of expression”.
In 2017, at least 25 journalists and hundreds of bloggers and Facebook users were prosecuted under the law, which criminalises online content deemed defamatory of blasphemous.