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'Tortured in custody'

Alleges Shahidul Alam; remanded for seven days
Detained photographer Shahidul Alam being taken to court yesterday. Photo: Collected

Noted photographer Shahidul Alam seemed to be walking with difficulty as policemen held his arms and helped him go in and out of a Dhaka court yesterday.

He told his lawyers and family members at the court that he had been tortured in custody.

Shahidul was taken to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court in Old Dhaka from the office of Detective Branch of police on Minto Road around 5:00pm in a police vehicle. He was barefoot.

The court placed him on a seven-day remand in a case filed under the controversial section 57 of ICT Act on charges of spreading propaganda and false information against the government.

Shahidul, 63, was picked up by plainclothes men on Sunday night from his Dhanmondi flat.

Police produced him before the court about 21 hours after he was picked up. They sought 10 days' remand.

Saydia Gulrukh, director of Drik Gallery, who was present in the courtroom, said Shahidul told his family and lawyers that he heard the doorbell ring around 10:00pm on Sunday.

He looked through the peephole and saw a young woman standing outside, Saydia told The Daily Star.

After the girl claimed she was a student of his, Shahidul opened the door and some 10-12 men entered the flat and dragged him to the elevator and went downstairs. As he screamed, the men in plainclothes gagged him, she said.

On the ground floor, he saw several other men and a HiAce waiting for them. As they forced him into the vehicle he tried to scream and keep the door of the vehicle open. His leg was still outside when the men asked the driver to start driving.

“They then blindfolded him, beat him up and put handcuffs on him,” Saydia said.  

He was then taken to a place where he was told to sit on a wooden chair. They placed something heavy on his head, Shahidul told his family members and lawyers.

He was punched in the face and bloodied but the marks were washed off before he was brought to the court, he told the court. 

Masudur Rahman, deputy commissioner (media) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said Shahidul was arrested in a case filed with the Ramna Police Station.

In the remand prayer, Detective Branch Inspector Arman Ali, who is investigating the case, said Shahidul should be remanded to find out the reasons why he had spread rumors and whether there was a mastermind asking him to do such things.

During the hearing, Shahidul's lawyers submitted a petition for his bail and cancellation of the remand prayer. The lawyers said police had already collected evidence from Shahidul's phone while he was in custody for nearly 24 hours. Therefore, they said, he did not have to be remanded.

After hearing both sides, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Asaduzzaman Noor passed the remand order.

In the case statement, DB Inspector Mehedi Hasan said Shahidul gave an instigative speech while he went live on Facebook about the ongoing student protests.

According to the statement, Shahidul in his Facebook live said: “The present AL government is non elected and so do not have any mandate to continue. Bank looting is conducted by the people in power and their associates. Extra-judicial killing is conducted every now and then.”

It further quoted him as saying, “Disappearances are common phenomena. Quota system continues to facilitate only the people in power. The quota movement is subdued brutally. In the safe road movement, police invited the armed BCL students to fight the unarmed innocent students, female students are taken and then disappearing. Many innocent students are made injured by BCL students and police.”

The case statement also said, “Personally he believes that without the caretaker government no free, fair and neutral election is possible in Bangladesh. So, the present government must be overthrown.”

It mentions two URLs of Facebook posts and seizure of three mobile phones from Shahidul's possession.

It charged him with giving instigating speeches in electronic format and tarnishing the image of the state by causing deterioration of law and order and creating social unrest.

In the court, police took him to the fourth floor, holding his arms.

Jyotirmoy Barua, one of the lawyers representing the managing director of Drik Gallery and Chairman of Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, said the charge brought against Shahidul was totally baseless. Police brought charges of instigating, but did not mention the details of the instigation or provide any proof in the first information report.  Police rather simply provided two facebook URLs, he said.

Although Shahidul told the court about the torture, the court did not arrange any medical assistance for him, said the lawyer.

Besides, police were supposed to inform the family members about the detention within 12 hours, but they did not do it. They did not even give the FIR copy to his lawyers to let them prepare defence for him.

“We collected the FIR copy from the court, moments before the hearing started,” Jyotirmoy added.

Earlier in the day, Shahidul's wife Rahnuma Ahmed told a press conference at the Drik Gallery that he was abducted while she was in a neighbours' flat. Hearing screams, she ran downstairs.

“We heard from the security guards and our landlord that he was forced into a car and there were about 30-35 men in plainclothes. They had forcefully taken away the CCTV camera footage and put scotch-tape on the cameras,” she said.

Then she went to Dhanmondi police station and lodged a complaint regarding the abduction. She came to know a couple of hours later that he had been taken by the DB.

“We went there and stayed the whole night but we were not given any information. Around 10:00am in the morning, we saw a white vehicle coming out of the DB office with Shahidul.”

“Around 1:00pm, the DB officials called me and asked me to go their office. After keeping me waiting for an hour an officer told me that Shahidul was charged under the ICT act. They did not give further details.”

Addressing the press conference, Supreme Court lawyer Sara Hossain said, “According to section 33 of our constitution - if someone gets arrested it is customary for the force to provide information about the arrested person's whereabouts, as soon as possible. Under section 43, a person's house cannot be entered illegally or forcibly. The state is supposed to protect the communication and correspondence of every citizen. In this case, the state has offended both the sections.”

Prof Anu Muhammad of Jahangirnagar University said, “It is our government's liability to provide explanation to the citizens. Why is our government playing such role? ....People have eyes. Even if they break the cameras, still there will be the eyes, the brain, the memories and the history.”

On Saturday afternoon, Shahidul was allegedly assaulted by ruling party men while filming an attack on students campaigning for road safety near City College.