Renowned photographer and activist Shahidul Alam was arrested on 5 August 2018 by Bangladeshi police and charged with making “provocative comments”, just hours after speaking to Al Jazeera and posting Facebook videos about ongoing student protests over road safety.
Alam was charged under section 57 of the Information Communication and Technology Act (ICT Act), which criminalises several forms of artistic expression on electronic platforms.
Freemuse calls for the immediate release of Shahidul Alam and charges against him to be dropped.
“Shahidul Alam, and other artists and activists, have the right to express their views on political and social issues via international media and their own social media, whether in support of or opposing government policy, without fear of harm or prosecution,” Freemuse Executive Director Dr Srirak Plipat said.
“The arrest of Shahidul Alam under the notorious ICT Act is a breach of international human rights obligations. Failure to release Alam immediately and unconditionally will further weaken the government’s legitimacy, and worsen its human rights record,” he said.
Twenty plainclothes policemen arrested the 63-year-old, who founded the award winning media organisation Drik Picture Library, at his home in the capital Dhaka.
“He was taken to our office early this morning and we interrogate him because he gave false information to various media outlets and provocative remarks,” police chief Moshiur Rahman told AFP.
Alam was placed on a seven-day remand, but on 7 August the High Court ordered authorities to move him from police custody to a hospital, reported the Dhaka Tribune. The court asked the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital to submit a report on Alam’s condition by 9 August, when the matter returns to court.
In the days before his arrest, Alam photographed and reported live on Facebook from the mass protests that began after two schoolchildren were run over and killed by a speeding bus on 29 July 2018. About 100 people were injured in the violent protests as police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets, according to AFP.
Last year Freemuse, Drik Picture Library, PEN International and PEN Bangladesh published a joint stakeholder submission towards Bangladesh’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the UN system’s official mechanism for reviewing all member states’ human rights records in cycles of four-and-a-half years.
The joint submission recommended repealing section 57 of the ICT Act. It found many cases filed under the Act involved allegations that someone has written critically of a governing party politician on social media.
Read the full Bangladesh UPR join stakeholder submission here.