Languishing in jail for 103 days, noted photographer Shahidul Alam obtained permanent bail from the High Court yesterday.
However, the time of his release is uncertain, given that the attorney general's office will seek a stay on the HC order in connection with the case filed against Shahidul under the controversial section 57 of the ICT Act.
The HC gave the 63-year-old bail, considering his age and the time he spent behind bars on charges of “spreading propaganda against the government”.
The bench of Justice Sheikh Abdul Awal and Justice Bhishmadev Chakrabortty delivered the verdict after the final hearing on a bail plea filed by Shahidul.
“There is now no legal bar for Shahidul to walk out of jail following the High Court verdict,” Jyotirmoy Barua, a lawyer for Shahidul, told The Daily Star.
Shahidul is now at Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj.
He will be released after the copy of the HC verdict reaches the jail authorities through the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court, Jyotirmoy added.
As of filing of this report at 9:30pm, the jail authorities were yet to receive the copy.
Shahidul, also the founder of Drik and Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, was picked up by law enforcers on the night of August 5 from his Dhanmondi residence during the student demonstrations for safe roads.
Police filed the case and produced him before a Dhaka court the following day. He was then placed on a seven-day remand.
His arrest sparked outrage and condemnation at home and abroad with media and rights bodies, including Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists and PEN International, demanding his release.
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and 11 other Nobel prize winners, film directors, actresses, artists, authors and billionaire businessmen called for his immediate release.
Talking to this correspondent, Sara Hossain, the principal lawyer for Shahidul, said the HC granted bail to Shahidul, considering that he was 63-year-old and had been in jail for over 100 days.
Besides, the case filed against him is under investigation and he would face trial at the lower court concerned, she added.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told this newspaper that his office would move an appeal before the Supreme Court's Appellate Division, seeking a stay on the HC verdict.
During yesterday's hearing, Sara told the court that the statement mentioned in the first information report of the case and those made by Shahidul in Al Jazeera TV interview and on Facebook live post did not corroborate.
The HC may grant Shahidul bail as he has been in jail for 103 days without trial.
Shahidul has been suffering from an eye problem, she said, adding that he would face the trial at the lower court concerned if he is granted bail.
Mahbubey Alam opposed the bail petition, saying the FIR's statement corroborated the statements made by Shahidul in the TV interview and Facebook post, as Shahidul uttered words like “disappearance,” “looting of bank”, “non-elected government”, “judicial killing” and “bribery at all levels”.
Shahidul has damaged the image of the country by uttering such words and therefore, he cannot get bail, he argued.
Shahidul filed the bail petition with the HC on September 18 through his lawyers, saying that he was ill and he would not leave the country if granted bail. In the petition, he also said the allegations brought against him do not fall under section 57.
On completion of his remand, he was denied bail and sent to jail by a Dhaka court on August 13. On September 4, a judge of another HC bench felt “embarrassed” to hear Shahidul's bail petition, and forwarded the appeal to the chief justice for decision.
On November 1, another HC bench of Justice AKM Asaduzzaman and Justice SM Mozibur Rahman dropped the same bail petition from a hearing list.
Then Shahidul's lawyers placed the bail petition before the bench led by Justice Sheikh Abdul Awal.
Earlier on October 7, the HC bench led by Justice AKM Asaduzzaman issued a rule asking the government to explain in a week why Shahidul should not be granted bail.
Yesterday, the HC bench led by Justice Sheikh Abdul Awal made the rule absolute and granted permanent bail to Shahidul.