Speakers at a rally yesterday said the arrest of photographer Shahidul Alam reflected government's intention to gag freedom of expression and it could not tolerate dissenting voices.
Several hundred people under the banner of “writers-artists-students-teachers and cultural activists” attended the rally in front of National Museum at Shahbagh, demanding immediate release of Shahidul Alam and students picked up during the recent road safety movement.
The internationally acclaimed photographer was picked up at night and “tortured” by law enforcers which are examples of the government's “authoritarian attitude” and misrule, they said.
Shahidul was arrested from his Dhanmondi house on August 5, hours after he gave an interview to Al Jazeera about the student protest, during which several journalists and photographers were attacked by armed men.
The next day, a Dhaka court remanded him in a case filed under Section 57 of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Act on charges of “spreading propaganda and false information against the government”.
Shahidul told the court that he was tortured in custody, but police denied.
Several national and international organisations and globally renowned persons including award-winning photographers, artists and academics have demanded his release.
Terming the student campaign “unprecedented”, economist Prof Anu Mohammad said if the government was sensible, it could take lessons from the protests and bring discipline in the traffic system. “Rather, it opted for suppression,” he said.
“The government tries to take credit for digitising Bangladesh but it is afraid of digital platforms. It tries to take pride in sending a satellite into space but is afraid of satellite-based communication.”
Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) President Mujahidul Islam Selim said students proved changes are possible in the country's “rotten” social and economic systems.
Shahidul spoke against anomalies and misrule of the government but his speech has been labelled a “conspiracy”, he said.
Alleging that the government is out to tarnish the photographer's image, Ganasamhati Andolon Chief Coordinator Zonayed Saki said the government was shaken when students took to the streets. It also tried to portray a mass movement negatively for its own interest, he added.
Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan, an associate professor of Dhaka University, said the way Shahidul was taken away proved he is not a “government's man” while his arrest made clear the state of freedom of expression in the country.
DU teachers Prof Fahmidul Haque and Samina Lutfa, green activist Syeda Rizwana Hasan, photographer Taslima Akhter, Pathshala teacher ASM Rezanur Rahman, and Jahangirnagar University's Prof Sayeed Ferdous also spoke.